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Return to Prince Manor by Snapegirl

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Format: Novel
Chapters: 79
Word Count: 467,543
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Strong Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: Drama, Action/Adventure, AU
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, Snape, Sirius, Voldemort, Draco, OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: Snape/OC, Draco/Hermione, Other Pairing

First Published: 05/20/2009
Last Chapter: 12/16/2011
Last Updated: 03/15/2013

Summary:




A new year means new perils and friendships for Harry, as he faces the Triwizard Tournament, a vengeful Dark Lord's return, and must try and master the secrets of Prince Manor. Can his family and friends help him succeed? Sequel to Heir to Prince Manor! Banner by lilausty! Wicked!
 
 


Chapter 21: The Time of My Life
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**The title of this chapter is taken from the song of the same name, sung by Bille Medley & JenniferWarnes because this chapter is dedicated to the late Patrick Swayze, one of my favorite actors, whose performance in Dirty Dancing was unforgettable. Rest in peace, Patrick! You are missed!**

Harry woke the next day from a pleasant dream of himself and Katie walking along a seashore, listening to the waves crash against the shore, their feet cooled deliciously by the surf. He sat up, only then wondering how he had gotten back in his bed and also realizing he was still wearing his clothes. He rubbed his eyes and put his glasses back on. Duncan must have put him to bed, he reasoned, but had forgotten to change his clothes to pajamas, the way Severus usually did. Still, he was grateful to the kelpie for doing that at all and wasn’t about to quibble over trivialities.

He looked down as something crackled beneath his hand and saw a letter addressed to him, written in an unfamiliar hand. He carefully opened it, and found the original scroll inside, plus another paper with Duncan’s translation and a note. He read the note first.

Harry,

I have finished translating what the scroll said. It is a riddle, but not one I am familiar with, though given enough time I am sure I could figure it out. I am sorry I cannot stay longer, but the sea is calling me and I must swim. Good luck with the figuring and take care of Lady Katherine for me. If you have need of me again, you have but to call.

Best wishes and may the sea grant you peace and harmony.

Ever your friend,

Duncan

Harry smiled. The parchment even smelled a bit like the briny deep. He tucked it in his pocket, then unfolded the translation.

On it was the following riddle:

With no wings, I fly

With no eyes, I see

With no arms, I climb

More frightening than any beast,

Stronger than any foe,

I am cunning, ruthless

And tall

In the end, I rule all.

What am I?

Harry’s brow wrinkled and he tried to puzzle what it could be, but he just wasn’t up to handling hard riddles this early in the morning. He carefully put the translation into the scroll case, he would show it to Hermione later and see what she made of it. He swung his legs over the side of the bed but before he could stand up, a strange black owl flew in the window, carrying two letters addressed to Harry Snape, Hogwarts School.

The owl landed on his arm and held out the letters. Harry took them and called some owl treats from his trunk into his hand for the black avian. “Here you go. You did double duty today, you ought to go rest up in the Owlery.” The owl took the treats daintily and flew away.

Ron stuck his head out from his bed and said sleepily, “Who’s sending you mail this early in the morning, Harry?”

“Uh . . .I don’t know. Guess I’ll find out.” He opened the first letter and smiled. “It’s from Snuffles!” he told Ron softly.

Dear Harry,

Sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner, but I was trying to contact Dumbledore and couldn’t get a hold of him right away. I wanted to ask him how in bloody hell he could let you become involved in something as dangerous as the Triwizard Tournament. I’ll bet Snape was ready to spit nails, like I was. Your aunt was horrified too, kept asking if there wasn’t something I could do, like kidnap you, to prevent you from participating. I had to slip her a Calming Draught in her tea and explain to her about binding magical contracts before she quit breathing fire. She’s some lady, your aunt.

I would have to agree with the old man and say that your name was placed in the goblet by someone who wishes you harm. So please be on your guard, Harry. Watch your back, okay. That first task was terribly dangerous, I’m glad you managed to overcome the lamia with a minimum of injury. Has your dad taught you a Conjunctivitis Charm yet? That will temporarily blind a foe if you cast it right. It was a favorite of us Aurors back when I was still on the force. If you don’t know it, ask your dad to show you.

For once I’m glad that Snape’s your dad, Harry, because he’s one tough bugger and a good man to have in a fight, he knows how to kick your arse six ways to Sunday. I don’t worry all that much if he’s around, because he’ll die to defend you, kid.

Sorry we can’t come visit for Christmas, but it’s too dangerous right now for me to venture out and Petunia and Dudley don’t want to leave me alone on the holiday, so they’re staying with me. We’ll send you gifts, though. Hell, I think Tuney’s even bought a gift for young Malfoy and old Pricklepuss there.

You might start to wonder just what is going on over here with your aunt and cousin. Truth is, I’m not quite sure, but I think I’m falling in love with her and even your cousin is growing on me. I know, I know, it’s a shock right? Well, even us old dogs get lonely, kid, and Tuney is something else. She’s brave and smart and while she may not be model gorgeous, she’s pretty enough to make me look twice. What she endured at the hands of that beast is something no woman should, and that’s not something I say lightly. She doesn’t really talk about it, but I’ve held her after a nightmare plenty of times, and she’s done the same for me.

And Dudley’s changed too from when I last wrote. He’s turned over a new leaf and finally decided to grow up. He’s lost a lot of weight, don’t think you’d recognize him if you saw him, and he’s learned that there’s more to life than eating and video games and getting your own way all the time. He’s finally discovered himself, I guess you’d say.

Matter of fact, he wanted to write you too, and I told him I’d send along his letter with mine.

Tuney sends you her love.

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Take care now, kid!

Love ya,

Snuffles

Harry knew his jaw was hanging open like a dimwit, but he couldn’t help it. Sirius is in LOVE with my AUNT. With AUNT PETUNIA. Holy good God, I cannot believe this! When did it happen? How did it happen? Scratch that—I don’t want to know. Do I? Who in the world would have thought? Wait till I tell Dad, and Draco, and should I tell Ron and Hermione?

“Harry? Is it bad news? You look like you got hit in the head with a brick.” Ron said.

“No, it’s just . . .surprising.” Harry said. Then he picked up the other letter.

He recognized Dudley’s square messy print immediately. He quickly tore open the letter.

Dear Harry,

Guess you’re wondering why I’m writing this to you. I mean, we didn’t really get on and last time you saw me I tried to knock your head off. Mum said I should tell you I’m sorry for doing that, and I am, just so you know. Since moving in here with Siri I’ve learned to see things different than I have before.

At home, Dad used to tell me that I should have anything I wanted because I was his son and you were just our freaky poor relative that would come to a bad end. Looking back on it, we treated you rotten, me and Dad ‘specially. I never thought it was wrong till I came here and Siri sat me down and we talked about what happened and why it happened.

He was mad—mostly at my dad—for what he did to you and Mum. I . . .never knew he hit her. I . . .when I found out . . .I was just . . .it’s not something you ever want to think on, that your dad hurt your mum. That’s wrong, he was wrong, and I was wrong too, for following him like a robot. Sorry. That’s not enough, but it’s all I know how to say.

I probably ought to say sorry to your dad—Uncle Severus—too, for behaving like a royal brat when he was at our house last time. Yeah, you’re probably falling over right now hearing me call your dad that and say I was wrong. Feels kind of weird—in a good way. Mum says Uncle Severus is a decent man, even if he did threaten to wallop me, and that he’ll give you a good home and a family. I hear you’ve got a brother now. What’s he like? Hope he’s not a bugger like I was.

Funny, but when I first moved in here I was sure I’d hate it and hate Sirius too. I mean, this place was like a dump compared to our old house and Sirius was a wizard like you and Uncle Severus, and I didn’t trust him. I was upset and mad at Mum, I kind of blamed her for Dad dying. I was a stupid brat and I acted worse, till Sirius gave me what-for. Mum too. Took me awhile to see that, I was used to Dad saying I was perfect and I didn’t owe anybody anything.

But being with Siri and Mum, living sort of like regular people, with no TV and no game systems (and that REALLY sucked) made me think and look at stuff I never had before. I played with Snuffles, it’s so cool that he can become a dog. Wish I could become an animal. I think I might like to become a horse. We went for walks and I started to lose some weight. Now I like running around outside and Siri taught me how to play catch and some wizard card games. And I could see now that he wasn’t a freak, and magic is kind of cool.

Mum really likes him a lot, and I almost died when I figured THAT out, but now I’m okay with it. Siri’s not like Dad, he doesn’t expect her to wait on him and he asks her for advice and they talk. Siri’s funny, he likes to joke around and make me and Mum laugh, he hardly ever gets mad. Not unless I take an attitude with my mum or him. Then he can get madder than blazes, sort of like Uncle Severus. But I’m not afraid of him, like I was with my dad. Siri wouldn’t ever hurt me, and once he punishes me it’s over, he doesn’t bring it up again. So . . .if he ever does marry Mum, I won’t mind too much.

I think I wrote a book here, and I’ve got chores to do, so I’ll just say have a Merry Christmas and all that.

Dudley

Harry wondered if he were still dreaming, those two letters were making his mind reel. He was still in a sort of daze about Sirius’ revelation that he loved Petunia and he assumed his aunt returned his godfather’s affections. And then Dudley’s confession or whatever you called it . . .his cousin really had changed if he could admit that he had been wrong for all those years and regretted what he had been and done. Harry wondered if Sirius had magicked him somehow, then he shook his head. It would take more than a Personality Altering Charm to change Dudley so much, such things had to come from within, and from an honest desire to want to change, as Harry had learned over the summer at the manor with Draco. All of us have changed as the result of one secret being revealed. Me, Dad, Draco, Aunt Petunia, Sirius, and even Dudley. Changed for the better. Now I have a family that actually wants me, I’m not the freaky outcast Potter any more.

And that felt better than drinking a Euphoria Draft.

Ron was watching his friend’s expression change from shock to acceptance and then to a sort of goofy smile. “Harry? What’s up with you? You look like you just won a thousand Galleons.”

Harry looked up at his friend. “It’s complicated, but . . .I just got a letter from my cousin Dudley too.”

“The fat one that was always such a prat to you?”

“Yeah, but . . .he’s not like that anymore. Living with Snuffles changed him, he’s not the spoiled snot that used to pound on me according to Sirius and he even wrote a letter to me apologizing and stuff.”

“Wow! Guess that’s good though. You gonna see him over the holiday?”

“No. Can’t. But we’ll be going back home to the manor. I’ve missed being home.”

“Me too. Except for the fact that my mum’s probably going to smack me a couple of good ones when I get home.”

“I’m sorry, Ron,” Harry began.

Ron waved off his apology. “Hell, Harry, it was worth it to see Krum get what was coming to him. Never thought I’d say this, but Malfoy has a damn good right hook. Where’d he learn to fight like that? Your dad teach him?”

“Yeah and me too. But we’re only allowed to use kin-sa-dor to defend ourselves in a real fight. Come on, let’s get dressed and go eat, I have a few other things to tell you.” Harry said. He put his letters in his trunk and locked it, then he got dressed quietly, his mind full of new and astonishing thoughts.

* * * * * *

That afternoon, he met Katie down by the lake and they had a small picnic lunch, just the two of them. Since the incident on Halloween night, he found it much easier to talk with her and share things of a personal nature that he wouldn’t have dreamed of doing before. He told her about Duncan helping him with the scroll and she had smiled and said, “So he kept his promise after all. Not that I doubted he would. He doesn’t seem like the type to break his word and didn’t you tell me once that the fae can’t lie?”

“Yes, but they can tell half-truths, that’s why you have to be careful when you deal with them. Especially if they’re Dark Court. But Duncan isn’t. He asked for you.”

Katie chuckled. “What did he say?”

“He asked how you were and then he warned me that if I didn’t take care of you, he’d be there to take my place.”

“Poor Duncan! I feel bad for him, Harry. He’s smitten with me because I look like his Albia, in a way. I wish we could help him find someone else, someone who needs him as much as he needs someone.”

“Katie, he’s a thousand year old kelpie! I’m sure he doesn’t need two fourteen-year-old’s playing matchmaker.”

“I’m not playing matchmaker, Harry. Just trying to help, is all. And being a thousand years old or something doesn’t mean you can’t use a bit of help every now and then.”

“What are you scheming, Miss Bell?”

“I’m not . . .scheming, just thinking about possibilities.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Must be the fact that the Yule Ball’s getting closer. You want every eligible man paired up for the evening.”

She giggled. “I do not! I just feel sorry that Duncan’s so alone. Is he handsome in his human form?”

“Uh . . .I’m not into guys that way, but . . .yeah, I’d say so. He looks like a fae lord and they can make a girl stop dead in the middle of traffic.”

“Good. That makes it easier. Now . . .what girls do we know that aren’t currently involved with anyone, have a good had on their shoulders, and aren’t afraid of trying something different, like maybe dating a water horse?”

Harry thought for a moment, then said softly, “What about Luna Lovegood? She’s a Ravenclaw and she’s a bit mystical. She’s not dating anyone that I know of and she would probably be fascinated with Duncan if she met him. I mean, she talks to and pets thestrals.”

“And sees wrackspurts and other things,” Katie chuckled. “Only thing is, she’s a blond.”

“Well, maybe Duncan needs to broaden his horizons and go out with a blond this time,” Harry said.

“Maybe. And if she let me do her hair and lend her some pretty clothes . . .I mean some of her clothes are really strange, but I guess that’s to be expected, since she has no mum or sisters to help her, and her dad wouldn’t know what fashion was if it hit him, like most men . . .she wouldn’t look so awkward and odd and maybe he might be willing to talk to her. It can’t hurt, right?”

“Right. I’ll summon him again the night of the Yule Ball. And if he agrees to meet her, she can go to the ball with him.” Harry smirked. “And oh . . .will they turn heads all right!”

Katie smiled. “I hope it works out.” Then she kissed her boyfriend, whom she adored for his compassionate nature as much as she did for his unflinching courage.

They spent the rest of their lunch period nibbling on the food they had brought and kissing inbetween bites, managing to enjoy the afternoon even though it was a bit nippy and they had to cast Warmth Charms over their blanket and clothes. Harry told Katie about Sirius and Dudley’s letters and she said it was good that all of his family was getting along and hopefully it would stay that way.

* * * * * *

At dinner that night in Severus’ quarters, it was Saturday and Harry normally ate at least one meal in private with Severus, Phil, and Draco, Harry broke the story of Sirius, Petunia, and Dudley. Draco, who knew of Dudley through Harry’s stories of his cousin, murmured, “Well it’s about time the big baby grew up!”

Severus looked partially amused and surprised and said calmly, “If anyone could make Sirius Black grow up and become a responsible adult, it’s Petunia. She always was a bossy thing back when we were children, always had to have the last word, and I never understood why she married that waste of breath Dursley. Black can be an impulsive idiot at times, but at least he won’t hurt her or her son. I’ve no doubt she’ll have him jumping through hoops before long, he never could resist a woman.”

Phil chuckled. “One of those, eh?” he gave Severus a knowing look.

“And then some,” remarked the Potions Master dryly.

“I think Sirius will make her happy,” Harry said.

“I sincerely hope so.” His father said, helping himself to more salad. “How are you coming along with your translation of that scroll?”

“Good,” Harry answered, looking down at his plate. It was not a lie, but Harry didn’t want Severus to know that Duncan had helped him just yet. Though he had told Draco. He quickly changed the subject. “Are we going home to the manor for Christmas, Dad?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact, we are.” He did not tell them that he had sent Dobby and a few other house elves from Hogwarts there to decorate the manor for Christmas, as he and his sons would have no time to do so before the term ended. “And your Uncle Phil has something he would like to tell you about the holiday as well.”

The two boys looked at the vampire, who was lounging casually in his chair, his violet eyes twinkling. “I’ve invited all of you to come to my cottage for part of the holiday, to meet my family. I figured it’s time Julie met you and my boys have been pestering me to bring you by ever since Halloween. Does that sound good to you?”

Both Harry and Draco nodded.

“Sounds great, Uncle Phil,” Draco said.

“Good, then I shall issue you an invitation to come right after Christmas, that will give Julie time to prepare a nice welcome for you.” Phil said, smiling.

Then Harry remembered something else he still had to do. “Dad, can we go to Gringotts tomorrow? I need to get some money from my vault to go Christmas shopping.”

“That won’t be necessary, Harry. I told you before, your account and Draco’s are not to be touched except in dire emergencies. Any money you need for Christmas presents I will give you.”

Draco gave his brother a smug look. “Told you so.” He turned to their father. “How much were you going to give us?”

“How much do you need?”

Draco thought for a moment. “Sixty Galleons.”

Sixty Galleons?” Harry exclaimed.

Draco scowled. “What? You want to get nice gifts, not some cheap throwaway things, right?” He pulled his brother’s head down and whispered something in his ear.

“Oh. Okay. Yeah, sixty Galleons sounds about right.”

Severus nodded. “Very well. I shall make the withdrawal tomorrow. Now finish your supper.”

Harry and Draco thanked him, then continued eating. It was going to be a fine Christmas.

“Oh and don’t forget, Dad, we need dress robes too for the ball,” Draco reminded.

“Indeed. We can purchase those as well tomorrow. I’ll make an appointment with Madam Malkin.”

“Dress robes? Is that like a tuxedo?” Harry asked.

Severus’ mouth quirked. “A little bit. You will be wearing a suit and tie underneath them. You’ll see when we go there.”

“Are you going to get some too?”

“No, for I already have mine,” Snape answered.

“Are they black?”

“As a matter of fact, they are green.” Severus replied, smirking. “Now finish your carrots.”

Harry groaned but did as he was told. He just hoped shopping for dress robes wouldn’t be a horror show.

* * * * * *

December 24th dawned bright and sunny, but the girls in Gryffindor Tower and elsewhere in the school were in a tizzy, trying to get ready for the ball that evening. They were airing out dresses and robes, sticking sequins and bows on shoes to make them fancy, and trying out new hairstyles and make-up.

Harry and Ron could hear the shrieks and moans right through the wall of their dorm room. “What’s going on in there?”

“Don’t ask, mate. You don’t want to know, trust me.” Ron advised, shuddering. “I can’t believe my mum expects me to wear those awful things. They look like my great-aunt Tilly’s dress robes from a century ago! Maybe this is her way of punishing me for getting arrested.” He indicated the velvet robes with the lacy sleeves and trim.

“Relax, Ron. Draco taught me a spell that will help you,” Harry said. He took out his wand and pointed it at the ugly robes. Then he spoke three words and the robes’ lacey trim disappeared, to be replaced by smart discreet crimson stripes and the cut altered to resemble more modern day wear, and a matching crimson bowtie appeared as well. “There. How about that?”

“Brilliant, Harry! Now Zara won’t run screaming from me. You saved my life!”

“It was nothing.” Harry said, embarrassed. “You really ought to thank Draco. He knows a lot of spells to adjust clothes and things.”

“Yeah, he’s a real toff clotheshorse.” Ron tittered.

“Ron, you’d better never tell him that to his face, or else you’ll end up with a fat lip,” Harry warned. Then he added mischievously, “Even if it is true.”

“I’ll just keep it to myself,” Ron muttered.

Harry’s dress robes hung neatly on a hook, they were a classic black with a wide gold trim on the sleeves and down the front, they had an embroidered lion roaring on the right side, and were tailored to fit him perfectly. So was the smart suit that hung next to it. Severus had spared no expense on his sons’ clothing. Harry even had new shoes for the occasion.

It hadn’t been all that bad getting his dress robes, Harry simply let Severus and Draco pick out the cut and style, since he had no idea what was good or not. Then all he had to endure was the fitting and that was done by magic.

“C’mon, Ron. Let’s go flying or something.” Harry suggested, picking up his broom. He was eager to fly since being grounded, and he also had something else to do at the lake before dark fell.

* * * * * *

Half-an-hour before the ball was about to start, all of the couples were crowded into the Entrance Hall, talking and laughing, some were biting their lips uneasily. Hermione was next to Draco, looking fabulous in her beautiful rose pink gown, her hair was no longer frizzy, but sleek and put up on top of her head in a twist with several tendrils left free to hang alluringly down her neck. She even wore beautiful pearl and tourmaline earrings shaped like flowers, and on her feet were glittery pink pumps. A light touch of blush and eyeshadow and she glowed like a fresh spring morning.

Draco had taken one look at her and felt himself ache with desire. But he controlled himself admirably, and walked over and bowed politely, taking her hand and kissing it in the courtly fashion of purebloods. “Miss Granger, you are like a beautiful English rose come to life. Would you do me the honor of being my lady?”

Hermione’s eyes glowed. “I would, my lord Malfoy,” she said, then she laughed. “Draco, you look smashing.”

He blushed lightly. “It’s the dress robes.” Like Harry, his dress robes had been tailored to fit him perfectly, emphasizing his height and trim waist and well-muscled body. He too was wearing basic black with silver and gold trim and a stylized snake upon his right breast. His tie was a simple satin green, but it offset perfectly his pearl gray shirt. His hair was brushed back in a fashionable wave and his gray eyes glowed with joy when he looked upon his Hermione, the bookworm who had suddenly become a beautiful butterfly.

He gently took her arm and led her towards the line of people. Heads turned and girls and boys gasped when they caught sight of Hermione, and Draco simply looked daggers at the few boys who dared to let their gazes linger upon her too long. “I love the dress,” he whispered to her.

“Thanks. Katie and I went shopping together and she helped me with my hair.”

“You look amazing,” he said, and smiled at her.

Hermione felt rather dizzy and could hardly believe she was actually doing this, attending a formal ball with Draco on her arm. She felt almost like Cinderella, walking into the ball with a handsome prince. “Hi, Katie! You look incredible!” she called to her friend, who was making her way across the crowded Hall looking for Harry, who was just coming downstairs.

He stopped dead when he saw Katie. “Oh . . .Merlin! Katie you’re . . .wow!”

“Hi, fly boy!” she grinned up at him. Her gown was a deep marine blue that came down almost to her feet, accented by lovely black pearls and turquoise pieces about the bodice and hem. The material the gown was formed of shimmered in the light and changed subtly from blue to a sea green and back again. Her dark hair was partially bound with two braids about her head and the rest left to drift down her back in a shining dark wave. Pearls and aquamarines were wound into her braids and she, like Hermione, wore just enough make-up to accent her brilliant eyes and high cheekbones. Her sandals were silver and deep blue and she wore aquamarine drops in her ears and a single large pearl about her neck.

“Well, what do you think?” she asked, twirling about.

“You look like a beautiful sea maiden,” Harry said, finally regaining the power of speech. He held out his arm to her as he had seen Draco do. “Shall we?”

She took his arm and they walked past Draco and Hermione to the front of the line.

“Wait till you see what Mione and I did to Luna,” Katie whispered, laughing softly. She gestured to the opposite staircase, where people were muttering and whispering in shock and envy at the vision in lavender silk coming down it.

Harry’s eyes widened.

Luna was wearing a soft gown that flowed about her like gauzy wings, it was a beautiful lavender color that played up her blond hair and blue eyes to perfection. She also had a lovely silver scarf, since the dress was strapless, and wore silver heels to match. The front of the dress bore a silver pin with a rearing horse emblem and Luna’s hair was twisted up in a tasteful knot and she wore a crown of lilacs on her head. And instead of radishes in her ears, she now wore silver horseshoes.

“I told her they were good luck,” Katie whispered, smirking. “Doesn’t she look brilliant?”

Harry nodded. “I almost didn’t recognize her.”

Ron whistled as he came up next to them. “Blimey, Harry! Did you see Luna? She looks like a totally different person. Really attractive.” Then he turned to Zara and said apologetically, “Sorry, I mean she’s not as attractive as you, Zara.”

Zara laughed. “Don’t worry, cherie, I am not the jealous type. Miss Lovegood is indeed tres belle.” Zara herself was dressed in a beautiful traditional gypsy gown, with ten ruffles upon the skirt, in gold and crimson, and her blouse was low cut and an even deeper crimson. A long shawl decorated in brilliant jewel tone silks of all the colors of the rainbow hung across her shoulders and her wrists flashed with gold bracelets and silver bangles. She wore high heeled black shoes with golden lilies on the front and her hair was twined with small golden buttercups and left to swirl about her head in a magnificent swath of curls. About her neck was a crest of a leaping leopard, the symbol of her Burgundian house.

Ron kept looking at her as if he were afraid she might vanish before his eyes, and he kept smiling nervously, and tugging at his sleeves to cover his sweaty palms. He was afraid he looked rumpled in his fancy robes, but even he couldn’t deny they were a damn sight better than the original ones. “You look like a million Galleons, Zara.”

“Aww, you’re sweet, Ron!” she beamed at him, then kissed him on the cheek.

He blushed as red as his hair, and tried to ignore the cries of “Kiss her back, Weasley, she’s a babe!” and “Way to go, little brother!” from the twins.

“My brothers! They’re so . . .just ignore them,” he said, feeling himself blush even hotter.

“Why? Perhaps you should take zere advice, no?” she teased.

Ron gulped. “You mean . . .you want me to kiss you?”

“I would not ask you otherwise,” she murmured, looking up at him from beneath her lashes.

Ron felt like he had just won the Triwizard Tournament. He put an arm about the lovely Beauxbatons witch and kissed her softly.

Fred and George cheered.

So did Draco, Hermione, Harry and Katie.

Luna skipped up to them, looking rather shy and uncertain in her new wardrobe. “Hello, Harry! You look very handsome.”

“Thanks, Luna. You look really great too.”

“Oh, well, Katie convinced me to come, even though I haven’t got a date yet. She lent me the dress and fixed my hair, I think it looks pretty good.”

“It does, and you never know just when someone unexpected will show up that needs a partner,” Harry said, winking at Katie. He had told Duncan to come to the castle at seven o’clock, when all the couples would be going into the Great Hall.

“Really?” Luna looked around. “But I don’t see anyone.”

“Just be patient. I’m sure there’s someone who’ll be here,” Harry reassured her. He checked his watch--6:55. “Five more minutes till the doors open.”

In front of them were Fleur and Roger Davies, looking like a perfect society couple, handsome and haughty and charming. Fleur was wearing a sophisticated powder blue number that showed off her fabulous curves and long neck.

In front of her were Cho and Cedric, who also looked wonderful, Cedric in gold and black robes and Cho was wearing a Chinese silk dress with peonies and cranes upon it. She looked beautiful and serene, like a marble goddess.

First in line were Krum, who was wearing some kind of velvet red robe thickly trimmed with white mink fur, like a Russian czar and fur trimmed boots and a thick gold chain was about his neck. He had an arrogant smirk on his face and was escorting a pale and wispy girl wearing a frilly white dress that made her look like a cake topper. Katie said her name was Damascus Rosen, she was a fifth-year Ravenclaw, and very stuck-up. She was looking down her nose at Luna and then her eyes shot to Katie, who gave her a cool nod and turned away.

“Upstart mariner’s daughter,” Damascus sniffed.

Harry stiffened and would have replied to the sneering girl, but Katie shook her head.

“Keep it cool, Snape. She’s been calling me that since we were both in short skirts. I take it as a compliment. Her father couldn’t pass the test for a Sea Wizard and so he became a merchant. She’s just jealous because my da’s stronger magically than hers. And we won the last sailing competition at Devon too.”

“I still don’t like what she said,” Harry said angrily. “Who does she think she is?”

“The belle of the ball.”

“Humph! There’s only one belle and I’ve got her right here,” Harry declared, and hugged her close.

Katie grinned and kissed him, her cerulean eyes dancing. “Where’s Duncan?”

Harry glanced upwards just as the clock struck seven and the double doors to the hall swung open. “I don’t know. He said he would be here.”

“Harry, what did you tell him?” Katie asked, frowning.

“Uh . . .that there was a big party going on and one of my friends needed an escort. Why?”

“Oh. I was afraid you said something else, like you just wanted to talk to him or something.” She faced forward as the line began to move inside the hall.

Harry continued to look around for the kelpie until Katie tugged him into the hall, and they processed up the strip of red carpet to the dais where the teachers sat, along with Karkaroff, Madame Maxime, and Bagman. Harry stared in alarm as he didn’t see Crouch there, only a smug Percy in his spot. Percy gave him a supercilious look and pointed them to a seat next to his own.

Harry reluctantly slid into it, he had managed to avoid the arrogant third eldest Weasley since that day on the stairs, when Percy had declared he wasn’t fit company for his brother. “What are you doing here?” he snapped, not caring if he sounded rude. “Where’s Mr. Crouch?”

“Mr. Crouch is . . .indisposed,” Percy replied smoothly. “Had a nervous attack. Under a lot of pressure you know. I’m his assistant, you know, and he told me to take his place. He trusts me implicitly.” The older wizard stated, as if he had just been named king of the British Isles.

“I’ll bet.” Harry said shortly. He looked down the table at his father, who was dressed impeccably in his forest green dress robes, his hair bound back by a satin ribbon, and gave Severus a smile.

Dark eyes met green and Severus gave him an approving nod and a smile in return. He was seated next to Dumbledore, at his right hand, and McGonagall was opposite him on the Headmaster’s left. Dumbledore was at the head of the long table, beaming genially at everyone, dressed in sumptuous purple velvet trimmed with ermine and sparkles, and the beret he wore upon his white locks sported a single red phoenix feather.

Harry looked around, the hall was glittering with candles floating in the air, and festooned with pine boughs and holly and huge red velvet bows. The usual long tables had been done away with in favor of smaller round ones that sat four people and were draped with red tablecloths. There was a large space in the middle of the hall where the dancing was to be, and off to the right was a podium where the Weird Sisters were supposed to be playing. It was currently empty.

Harry frowned, for the students were being seated and still there was no sign of Duncan. He could not believe the kelpie was late. Poor Luna would have no one to escort her inside and would end up having to come in alone.

Just then there was a stirring at the opposite end of the hall, and all heads turned to see Luna standing at the entrance of the hall, her hand upon a devastatingly handsome young man. She was looking up at him and smiling, a heartbreaking sweet smile.

Duncan was looking down on her and saying something that made her laugh, then he gestured and they began to walk down the aisle. The kelpie had managed to make himself look around seventeen, but there was an ageless quality in his face and the way he held himself. His hair had been left long, it shone black as night and he was wearing a tunic and cloak of a shimmering white and deep blue that complimented Luna’s gown perfectly. His breeches were skin-tight blue leather and looked as if they had scales sewn on to them. On anyone else, that sort of costume might have looked ridiculous, but not on the kelpie. On Duncan it was dazzling.

Every girl’s eye in the room was drawn to the handsome stranger, and Duncan flashed one of his dazzling smiles before leading Luna to an empty table and holding out a chair for her.

Whispers and rumors exploded around them, but the two serenely ignored them, intent only upon each other.

“I say, who is that fellow?” Bagman asked, for fae Glamour affected even men. “He’s criminally handsome.”

“He is that, all right,” murmured Professor Sinistra dreamily. “Who is he?”

They all looked at Dumbledore, who Harry had told of his little scheme. The old wizard smiled and said, “He’s a distant cousin of one of the students, recently arrived from the Caribbean, I believe.”

Everyone murmured astonishment at the unexpected guest save for one person.

Severus turned and shot Harry a sharp glance and his son knew that he was not fooled for a minute. He knew quite well who the visitor was, he knew Glamour when he saw it.

An instant later, Harry felt Smidgen settle upon his shoulder. :Master Harry, your father wishes to know how a kelpie came to be invited to the Yule Ball.:

Tell him I invited him to be Luna’s escort. Actually, it was Katie’s idea, we both thought it wasn’t fair for him to be alone on Christmas, and we figured Luna would be a good partner for him. So we asked him, he agreed, and here he is.

:I see! Playing matchmaker, are you?: Smidgen seemed vastly amused and purred her approval into his head before blinking over to Snape and relating Harry’s words to him.

Severus rolled his eyes heavenward at the shimmerling’s message and thought, I should have known. Merlin save me from matchmaking teenagers. I shall have to find a moment later to speak to him, make sure he understands that Lovegood is not to be snatched away after the ball is over.

Harry relaxed when he saw that his father did not appear angry over his little scheme, and then stared down at his golden plate. Where was the food?

He got his answer a moment later when Dumbledore spoke his order into the air. “Pork chops and potatoes.”

There was a flash and then perfectly done pork chops swimming in gravy and potatoes appeared on his plate, along with asparagus and a small buttered roll.

“Guess we get to choose the menu tonight,” Katie said excitedly, then she asked for crab cakes in sweet red pepper sauce and rice pilaf.

Harry thought for a moment, then remembered he had always wanted to try broiled lobster tails and steak with a baked potato.

His dinner appeared upon his plate a few seconds later, and it smelled absolutely divine. He looked over to see what his father had ordered.

Severus was eating mushrooms stuffed with crabmeat, huge ones, with a side of risotto Milanese and green beans.

Harry hid a smile. I should have known. He made that once for dinner at the manor and said it was one of his favorites. I’ll have to remember that for his birthday. He began eating his lobster, dipping the tender meat into the melted butter beside his plate. It was heavenly.

No wonder Dudley always ordered that when we went out to a restaurant. Mmm, it’s so good! He ate another piece, savoring the rich taste.

On the floor, at their table, Draco and Hermione were sharing a plate of tender veal cutlets in a brown sauce with mashed potatoes and honey-glazed carrots. They fed each other bites and laughed when some sauce dripped on Draco’s shirt. He promptly cleaned it off with a flick of his wand and resumed eating. Ron and Zara shared their table, though Ron was not bold enough to ask Zara to share a dinner with him. He contended himself with a tender Swiss steak and a baked potato loaded with cheese and bacon and Zara had chicken cordon bleu and peas with mushrooms and pasta with butter and garlic. For drinks there were fizzy apple cider and grape juice and the adults had some kind of rum punch.

At least some of the adults did. Severus did not touch the punch, instead sipping a lemon water.

Karkaroff looked at the other wizard and asked maliciously, “What’s this, Snape? Not man enough to hold your liquor? Where I come from, this is mild as milk.”

Severus gave Karkaroff a glance that should have killed him where he sat. “I prefer to not make a drunken ass out of myself, Igor, unlike some people I could name.”

“Are you calling me a drunk, Snape?”

Severus sneered and turned back to his dinner.

Karkaroff muttered and glared, but no one else said anything and McGonagall shot him a look that should have roasted him.

At last the dinner was ended and the Weird Sisters appeared, ready to begin the opening number that all the champions would dance to. Harry glanced nervously at Katie, who patted his hand.

“Don’t worry, Harry. You’ll do fine. You didn’t step on my feet once when we practiced with Draco and Hermione.”

Harry swallowed, wishing this were over. He looked over at the Weird Sisters, who reminded him of specters from a newly dug grave with their torn robes and dyed hair that hung over their eyes. As he watched, he saw out of the corner of his eye, Duncan push back his chair and approach the platform where they were standing.

He spent a total of three minutes in conversation, and then the lead singer of the wizard band bowed and gestured for him to come up on the stage.

The kelpie bounded up easily, smiling.

“Oh Merlin, he’s going to sing for us!” Katie said, and sighed in rapture. Duncan’s voice sometimes still haunted her dreams, it was that spellbinding.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have here a guest singer tonight, who wishes to open for us,” announced the lead of the Weird Sisters. “Please welcome Duncan Wavestrider.”

Duncan bowed and such was the charm he exuded that everyone in the room cheered and clapped like crazy, even though they had never heard him sing a note.

Over the tumult, Karkaroff leaned in and taunted Severus yet again. “Such a shame that you have no lady willing to stand up with you, Snape. Or do you not dance as well as drink, you backward stiff?”

Severus flushed, ready to take the arrogant Headmaster of Durmstrang apart with his razor tongue.

But before he could get a word out, another replied to Igor’s comment. “You’re pretty bold, wizard, to say such things about a combat master. I don’t see a woman next to you, Lord Lackwit.”

Karkaroff nearly fell over backwards as a lady in a gorgeous royal purple gown appeared beside Severus.

Severus spun around, rising to his feet so quickly he nearly knocked over his chair. “Sarai! What in Merlin’s name are you doing here?”

“Asking you to dance, Sev, among other things,” she replied, gazing up at him lovingly. “I’d offer to teach that buffoon over there some manners too, but I know you could do that yourself. Surprised?”

“I . . .but what about your oath to Titania?”

“My gracious queen allowed me to take a small vacation, and so I’m here until the end of Twelfth Night.” Sarai told him, her evergreen eyes shining. “I wanted to surprise you for Christmas, so I didn’t send a messenger.”

His hands closed over her shoulders, and he said tenderly, “You are the very best surprise I could have, Sarai a’mara.” His eyes burned with a fierce wild passion and a tenderness few in this world had ever seen.

Dumbledore cleared his throat. “Ah, Severus, would you please introduce your lady to us?”

The Potions Master blinked, then reluctantly turned away from his half-fae beloved. “Forgive me, Albus. Allow me to introduce my betrothed, Lady Sarai Kinsalari Valinek, cousin to Queen Titania of the Seelie Court, and Captain of her personal guard.”

“Charmed, my dear. You are the first representative of fae royalty we have had at the school since it was founded, I believe,” Dumbledore said, standing and taking Sarai’s hand and bowing over it. “Welcome, my lady, to Hogwarts. I am Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster.”

Sarai gave him a pleasant smile. “Thank you, sir. The pleasure is mine. And I am hardly royalty, I am but a distant relation to Titania.”

“Nevertheless, you are a relation,” Dumbledore insisted. He eyed Severus shrewdly. “Where have you been keeping her, Severus?”

“Ask rather where her duty has been keeping her,” Severus said, looking a bit embarrassed. “She serves Titania as her personal bodyguard and is often away in the Realm of Faerie, protecting her sovereign.”

“This enchanting little lady is a warrior?” Flitwick remarked, looking at Sarai in astonishment.

Sarai chuckled. “Don’t be fooled by my appearance, this dress is court apparel and were you to see me in my armor and uniform, you wouldn’t think me a soft court flower.”

She gestured at her dress, which was a lovely royal purple that fell almost to her feet, elegant and tasteful, with a close fitting bodice with a neckline of moonstones and amethysts, tapering down to a flowing skirt inset with silk and chiffon. On her feet were dainty heels that gave her an extra two inches of height, so she came up to Severus’s chin. Entwined in her hair, which had been tamed somewhat with several potions, were several glowing purple stones. “Titania’s wardrobe mistress called this color and style Purple Passionflower or some such nonsense,” she told Severus with a wry grin. “Do you like it?”

“I love it,” he said, drawing her close. “You outshine the stars, beloved.”

“Oh, please. Compared to my cousins I am but a candle flame.”

“But your cousins are not here, are they? You are, and you are the most beautiful woman here tonight. Trust me on that.” Severus said, lifting her hand and kissing it tenderly.

Katie nudged Harry. “Is that the professor’s girlfriend?”

Harry nodded. “Yeah, that’s Sarai. She’s something, isn’t she?”

Katie nodded. “Yeah. I look like a house elf next to her.”

“You do not,” Harry argued. “She’s half-fae, that’s why she’s so stunning. But I love you just the way you are, Lady Katherine.”

“Really?”

“Really. In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever seen Sarai in a dress. Normally she wears a tunic and breeches and carries a sword.” He had been speaking quietly, but he had forgotten how sharp a half-fae’s hearing was.

“Too true, Harry, but I could hardly show up to a ball in my uniform, now could I?” Sarai asked, smiling down at him.

“Uh . . .no.” Harry said, blushing. “Hi, Sarai. That’s a . . .nice dress.”

“Thank you, Harry. Well met, Heir Apparent,” laughed the guard captain, giving him a short curtsey. “Where is your brother?”

“He’s over there, with Hermione.” Harry gestured to where Draco was sitting. “Sarai, meet Katie Bell, my girlfriend.”

Sarai stepped away from Severus’s embrace to shake Katie’s hand. “Well met and a joyous Yuletide to you, Katie.”

Katie blushed and managed a soft, “And you as well, lady.”

Sarai gave her a smile, then greeted the others at the table before stepping back to Severus and taking his arm. “And now, I believe you were going to have a dance, were you not?” She looked up at the platform. “Cernunnos! How ever did you persuade one of my folk to sing for you?”

“Ask Harry,” Severus told her, smiling. “He arranged it.”

Before anyone could remark upon that, Duncan gave a nod to one of the Weird Sisters, who began to strum an invisible guitar, and as the first notes of the old ballad drifted across the hall, Duncan spoke.

“This first number is for the four champions and their partners, will they please come down on the floor to lead the first dance?”

The kelpie’s voice was as rich and compelling as ever, and Harry found himself moving down the dais and onto the dance floor with Katie before he knew what he was about. He had no chance to feel awkward, however, because Duncan began to sing, an old love song of the Seelie Court, called “My Beloved’s Eyes”.

The tune was an easy one to dance to, and Harry found his feet moving without conscious effort, stepping and turning in a soft gliding motion. He held Katie close and gazed into her eyes, enraptured by her nearness and her eyes and the music that flowed from the kelpie’s throat. For a single moment, nothing else existed except the two of them.

Duncan made a beckoning motion, and other couples stood and joined the four champions.

Draco twirled elegantly with Hermione, smiling down at her with such passion that it brought tears to her eyes.

Ginny danced and laughed with Neville, who managed to not step on her feet at all this time.

Dumbledore offered a hand to McGonagall, who took it, and the two stepped out to a graceful pavine.

Sarai turned to her betrothed. “Shall we dance, my Lord Severus?”

He took her arm and smiled challengingly. “Let us see if I can’t make you dance your slippers through tonight, Lady Sarai.”

Then he led her out on the floor, in a stately waltz that left others gaping.

Despite the difference in their height, the wizard and the half-fae warrior were perfectly matched. Sarai was grace incarnate, her feet hardly seemed to touch the floor. Severus led confidently, his innate grace and agility lending itself to the steps of the dance without much effort on his part. Though it had been over a year since he had danced this way with his lady, much less with an entire audience looking on, he found that he was not awkward in the least. He simply kept his eyes fixed upon his beloved and let the love he felt for her express itself in the music and the twirling motions of the waltz.

The students backed away, mouths agape, watching in awe as their professor and the strange yet beautiful woman he was partnering danced across the floor and back in perfect harmony. Draco and Hermione halted their own dance to watch and so did everyone else save Dumbledore and Madame Maxime.

Harry was grinning and holding Katie, swaying in time to the music, and he noted with some satisfaction that Krum was looking at Sarai and Severus with a sour expression upon his face and it was equally matched by Karkaroff, whose ill-considered comments now made him appear stupider than ever.

Duncan, recognizing two kindred spirits, continued to sing, finishing his first song and launching into another, this one a slightly faster reel.

Sarai and Severus moved over to where Harry, Draco, Hermione, and Katie were and Sarai held out her hand to Draco. “Come, little Dragon, dance with us. This one is meant to be danced in a circle, a roundel. Like this,” she demonstrated, her feet flashing in and out.

“Sarai, you’re in a dress!” Draco blurted, too shocked to say anything else.

The warrior laughed. “Indeed, and have a long look, child, for this may be the last time you see me in such garb for months. Now, will you dance, young one? “Tis remarkably like kin-sa-dor, this step.”

Draco stared into her twinkling emerald eyes and laughed too. Then he took her hand and grabbed Hermione by the other, and she in turn grabbed Harry, who grabbed Katie, who reached out and snatched Ron’s hand, and then Zara followed, clasping Luna’s hand. Duncan came down from the musician’s platform and took Luna’s other hand, still singing lustily, and one by one the other students joined in until there was a huge spiral whirling and twirling all across the hall, bound together by a kelpie’s song and the unity and fellowship of the season.

Eventually the great spiral dance broke up into smaller circles and one by one, partners took their turns in the center of each, dancing as they chose for a brief few minutes before backing out and giving the stage to another pair.

Duncan twirled a breathless Luna about, never missing a note, his dark cerulean eyes filled with laughter, his feet weaving a deft pattern. “What a revel, my lady! ‘Tis most glorious, yes?” he sang.

“Oh, yes, but please slow down, I can’t keep up,” Luna panted, but she was grinning.

Obligingly, Duncan slowed his steps till she matched him, and thought how wonderful it was to dance and sing again, and how good it felt to see the light in the girl’s eyes, as she smiled up at him, her eyes dreamy and filled with affection. Just so did I dance with my Albia, across the sand, to the invisible lyre and pipes I conjured with magic. Little Luna, yours is a wise soul, you see things beyond your ken, and yet you still have a refreshing innocence about you. May you keep that forever.

But at last his song came to an end, and everyone halted, panting and breathless, drunk on the sensations the kelpie had conjured with his splendid talent. Duncan bowed to the Weird Sisters, who were reluctant to try and follow such musical brilliance, and then he asked Luna if she was thirsty.

“Yes, I am. Dancing is fun, but it’s also thirsty work,” she admitted.

“Aye, little moon, it is.” Duncan smirked, and led her over to the refreshment table, where bowls of non-alcoholic fruit punch sat chilling. He poured two glasses, handed one to the starry-eyed girl, and they toasted each other. “Here’s to a Happy Yuletide, my lady, and may you have many more.”

“You too, Duncan,” she laughed and drank. She was dizzy, drunk upon joy such as she had never known, enchanted by the handsome young man who had appeared out of thin air to escort her to the ball. She knew almost next to nothing about him, but somehow that did not matter right then. There was something indefinable that drew her to him, and she could tell right away that whoever he was, he was not—at least completely—human. A fae lord, most likely, I think. Like all those stories Papa used to read to me. I could lose myself in his eyes forever, she thought and then proceeded to do so.

Harry and Katie were heading back to their seats to rest for a bit when they caught sight of the kelpie and Luna gazing at each other dreamily.

“Look, Harry! It worked! I think he likes her,” Katie said.

Harry eyed the kelpie, noting that he was giving Luna a sweet smile, and nodded. “Sure does.” He slapped his palm down on Katie’s and laughed. “This was some Yule Ball, huh?”

“Yes. I’m having such a good time,” she said, levitating two cups of punch over to them. She took one and Harry the other, and they sipped contentedly while watching the others on the floor.

Zara had traded partners and now she danced with Draco and Ron with Hermione, and the half-Gypsy proved she had inherited her ancestors’ love of music and grace as she and the Slytherin danced a wild flamenco to the Weird Sisters’ rock number.

Some of the Slytherins cheered and Blaise Zabini yelled, “Go it, Malfoy! Nobody dances like a Slytherin!”

There was an overwhelming yell from all the Slytherins present, as they saluted their Head of House, who was standing quietly with his arm about Sarai, and his foster son.

Laughing, Draco spun Zara around, then bowed and handed her off to Ron and claimed Hermione once more as the band shifted into a slow dance tune.

Harry would have asked Katie to dance again, but he felt a sudden urge to use the bathroom and regretfully hurried from the hall.

Upon returning, he caught sight of Moody and Karkaroff in a corner, and he slowed, wondering what those two were doing together, for normally Karkaroff avoided the former Auror. Harry crept forward on cat’s feet, slipping behind one of the pillars. The music was soft enough for him to make out what the two were whispering.

“Look at this! It’s returning!” Karkaroff sounded panicked, he had his sleeve rolled up and was pointing at something on his arm.

Harry couldn’t make out what it was and thought maybe it was a mole or a tattoo.

“So? What do you expect me to do about it?”

“You can’t ignore it! It means but one thing . . .”

“And if it does?” hissed Moody, his eye hard. “What do you plan to do, Igor? Stay and see it through, or run away and hide like the chicken-livered coward you are?”

Karkaroff was visibly distressed, his hands shaking as if with a palsy. “I don’t know! I don’t know!”

“Pull yourself together, you whining milksop!” snapped Moody, reaching out and shaking the other wizard. “People are starting to stare. Make up your mind, Igor. Quickly! Before it’s too late and you end up like Rookwood and the others. Wouldn’t want that, would you?”

Karkaroff shook his head. “No . . .but it is so difficult . . .will I be allowed back?”

“If you’re loyal, then yes. Decide, damn you! Before he does it for you.” With that, Moody turned and stomped away, leaving Karkaroff standing alone, wringing his hands.

Harry drew away and pretended to have just strolled through the doors and made his way back towards the high table where Katie sat. He didn’t know what had just went on between the two elder wizards, but whatever it was, it couldn’t be good.

I wish Uncle Phil were here, he could read their minds and tell what they’re up to in a second, but he’s at his home with his family tonight, getting prepared for the Christmas dinner and all for tomorrow. I wonder, do vampires bake gingerbread?

With that rather whimsical thought, he rejoined Katie and they returned to the dance floor for one last dance.

As he held her close, Harry recalled how nervous he had been just before the ball, and now he laughed inwardly and wondered why he had ever been afraid in the first place. There was magic in this night, in this ball, and he, Harry Albus Snape, was having the time of his life.

“I love you, Katie,” he whispered.

“I love you too,” she replied, her lips inches from his.

He dipped his head, unable to resist, and their mouths met in a searing kiss that sent lightning through them in bursts.

When they at last drew apart, they saw Severus and Sarai also indulging themselves, and Harry blushed and looked away. Sorry, Dad.

He turned around, and nearly bumped into Ron, who was carrying a plate of sweets back to Zara and Hermione. “Hey, Ron. What do you think so far?”

“I think this is the best party this school has ever seen. Whoever invited that kid to sing really found a gem. Merlin, but he ought to be on the WWN, he’s incredible. When he sings, I feel like I could dance myself into the air, and I’ve got two left feet.”

“I know. Duncan’s got some voice.” Harry said, sharing a secret smile with Katie. “He’s one of a kind.”

“And who’s the babe your dad was dancing with?” Ron asked, giggling. “Merlin, but she’s like on fire! I couldn’t believe it when I saw the two of them together, I nearly tripped and fell on my bum. I never knew your dad could dance.”

“Neither did I.”Harry admitted. “But I should have, since he’s known Sarai for so long and she seems to like to.”

“Sarai? You mean the half-fae warrior that your dad’s dating?” Ron coughed. “That Sarai?”

“Yeah, she’s the one.”

“What’s she doing here?”

“She came to surprise Dad and to stay for the holiday with us.”

Ron whistled. “Pretty neat, mate. Your dad sure looks happy.”

“He is. He misses her a lot, and they hardly ever have time together unless it’s the summer, so this is like the best present ever for him.”

“When’s the wedding then?”

“I don’t know. She still has a contract with the Queen and until she’s free she can’t marry. But someday they’ll tie the knot.”

“You’ll be lucky with her as a stepmother,” Ron said dreamily. “Really lucky.”

Harry socked him in the arm. “Ron! Get your mind out of the gutter.”

“Why? I like it there.”

“You’re hopeless, you know that?” Harry shook his head. “Even if I liked Sarai that way . . .she’d never break her vows to Dad. They belong together. Two halves of the same whole. Like Katie and me.”

Ron stared at him. “You’re that serious?”

“Yeah . . .pretty much,” his friend replied slowly.

Ron drew in a deep breath. “O-okay . . .so when’s the wedding?”

Katie answered. “Soon as we finish school. My parents would never permit us to get married any sooner and neither would Professor Snape.”

“Good. Then I’ve got time to save up for a new set of dress robes,” Ron said drolly and they all burst out laughing.

A/N: In the original GOF the ball was held after Christmas, but I tweaked the timeline a bit and held the ball on Christmas Eve to give Sarai time to spend Christmas with the Snapes.

If anyone would like to take a shot at solving the riddle, please do so, only don't put it in a review because others might be trying to solve it too. You can PM and I'll let you know if it's correct. :)

How did you all like the ball and who got paired with whom? Were you surprised by the guests? And with Sirius and Dudley's letters?

Wizard crackers and gingerbread to any who review this!!

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