After the Quidditch match that Saturday life at Hogwarts returned to normal, classes resumed as did Homework. Since Oliver was no longer trying to get Neville caught up to the rest of the team, practices had dropped down to twice a week, though they tended to run a bit longer to compensate. McGonagall had gone around the second week of December, asking who was staying for the Holidays and who was planning on going home. Harry, Kestrel and Neville happily signed their names on the list of those who were leaving. Ginny and her brothers all signed their names down as going home as well. When Kestrel asked at lunch that morning Ginny explained that her parents had been planning on going to visit her brother Charlie in Romania, but the Preserve had gotten a surprise addition of two Ukrainian Iron Belly's and they were no longer accepting guests or visitors.
"You guys should come to our place for a New Year's party!" Ginny said excitedly. "I'll ask mum and dad when we get home and send you a letter." Kestrel nodded, just as enthusiastically as Ginny, and bent back over her Charms essay.
Since Neville had beyond proved himself on the Pitch the Slytherins had found other things to attempt to provoke their Gryffindor counterparts about. Not that it had done much good, as they all tended to ignore Draco Malfoy and his merry band of Slytherin sycophants whenever they came by. That trend almost ended when one of the Slytherin Chasers made a passing comment about mother's and Christmas.
They hadn't even realized he had been talking to, or about them, until one of them, when asked later they would never remember which one, had said "Isn't that right Longbottom? Oh that's right your Mum isn't quite all right is she?" Harry and Kestrel leapt on Neville as he started to surge to his feet, keeping him seated. The Slytherin's laughed deafeningly as the made their way out of a side door towards the Dungeons. Once they were out of sight Neville fought free of his siblings' hold and stormed out of the Great Hall.
Kestrel's hair had gone a very angry red colour, very similar to dried blood, as she stared hatefully at the door the Slytherins had left through. "I going to turn those berks into bowtruckles and use them for firewood."
"Neville gets first crack, Kes." Harry didn't even flinch when Kestrel turned her glare on him. "You know the Marauder Code. Neville gets first shot at the tossers. If he doesn't want it, then they're all yours. It'll have to be pulled off either before we leave, or after we come back. They're leaving for the holidays too."
"Or we can just get them on the train."
They spent the rest of their lunch coming up with various plans on how best to get back at the Slytherin Chasers.
As December continued, despite it almost being the Holidays, the Professors continued on as if there would be no Winter Hols, and exams were right around the corner. McGonagall was still strict, Flitwick overly excitable, and Snape just as nasty. He took it upon himself to spread out the humiliation between the three of them, depending on his mood and which of them walked into class first.
Unfortunately for Kestrel that honour fell to her on the last day of classes. Kestrel spent the whole class being Snape's verbal punching bag and listening to the green and silver side of the room, minus a select few, howl with laughter. Harry and Neville, who were working behind her, and Ginny who was at the same work bench, all tried there best to keep her calm. If not calm then at least they tried to help her to ignore the jibes of a man who should have known better.
It was always easy to tell when Kestrel was about to reach her boiling point, as much control as she had over her morphing, when her emotions got too much for her to control she began to loose it. As it was, by the time class was almost over her hair had gone from black to a sickly, muddy purple colour, the roots a bit brighter leaning toward dark red. Her knuckles were white as she stirred her forgetfulness potion, eyes locked on the swirling liquid as she tried to block out all other sound.
Kestrel bottled her potion and handed it to Ginny who brought it up with hers and Kestrel cleaned their station. Kestrel made it out of the class without loosing her temper, which was a miracle in and of itself, but as the students were making there way out of the Dungeons, Malfoy nasal tones snarked from behind them. "What's the matter, Black, can't take a little good natured teasing?"
Kestrel whirled around on the steps, gray eyes dark with rage, "Not when it's coming from a man twice my age and responsible for teaching students magic! But then what can I expect from the man who has a snivelling, little bit of toad spawn like you for a godson, eh Malfoy?"
"What'd you say Black?"
"Aw were the words to big, Draco, should I use smaller ones and speak slower? I knew you lacked a certain bit of intelligence, what with the type of people you hang out with, but I didn't think you were actually slow, Cousin." Kestrel's tone was pitying and slightly sympathetic and had many of the Slytherin's glowering at her hatefully.
Pansy scoffed as she looked Kestrel up and down, her nose wrinkling in disgust. "Is that the best you can come up with Kestrel? Though I guess we shouldn't expect anything less from the daughter of the only Black who wasn't sorted into Slytherin. Everyone knows that those who lack any real intelligence get sorted into Gryffindor."
"If that's true, how ever did you manage to talk your way into Slytherin, Pansy?"
Pansy bristled in annoyance and made as if to pull her wand but she managed to calm herself at the last moment, throwing the Black Heiress a tight smile. "Have your laughs now Black, while you can." The Slytherins all laughed cruelly, obviously sharing some joke or another, as the made their way passed the Gryffindors and up towards the Great Hall for lunch.
"Oh I plan to, and as many as I can at your expense, Parkinson."
Harry waited until they had all gone from sight before turning to Kestrel and saying, "Come on Kes, let's get to the Tower and finish packing up our things. We don't want to be scrambling before the Express leaves tomorrow."
Kestrel, whose hair was still that muddy purple colour she got when annoyed beyond reason, only nodded and spun on her heel, not bothering to wait and see if her friends were keeping up.
It turned out that Neville did not, in fact, want to exact revenge on the Slytherin Chasers, citing that he could get back at them much more effectively on the Pitch, and so gave Kestrel the go ahead on getting payback on his behalf. It took her a little while to work out, between packing and finishing up last bits of homework so she'd have none to do over the holidays, but she did manage to come up with something. Enlisting the help of Tonks for some tricky Charms work that she wasn't quite good enough to do herself yet, she found out where Pucey and his group of friend's usually sat at breakfast, and with the help of the older Weasley Twins, got it in place.
Kestrel was seated on the side of the Gryffindor table that gave her a good view of the Slytherin table, with out making it too obvious that she was spying. Harry sat next to her and he, Neville, and Ron were discussing possibly getting together over the holidays to play a pick-up game of Quidditch. There was a shout from the Slytherin table as students seated around Pucey stared at him in astonishment. Pucey continued to eat his breakfast as if nothing was the matter. One of his fellow Chasers tapped him on the shoulder, and once he had his attention motioned at his robes.
Pucey looked down at himself and shook his head, clearly seeing nothing amiss, and went back to eating. The hall began to fill with whispers and smothered laughter as more and more people took notice of Pucey's predicament. Finally apparently getting fed up with his house-mates trying to tell him something was wrong, he pulled his wand from apparently nowhere and waved it over himself. He held his arms apart as if to say 'See, nothing wrong here,' and looked down at himself.
His eyes widened in horror as he took in what the Great Hall had been noticing for the past five minutes. His robes, which he had definitely been wearing a second ago, were no gone and he was wearing nothing but his skivvies in the middle of over 300 people. He stood up, and with as much dignity as he could muster, walked calmly up the row between the Slytherin and Ravenclaw tables. There was laughter coming from all around him, steadily getting louder, but he managed to ignore it, keeping his pace as he reached the head of his house table.
It wasn't until a voice called out "Nice underwear Pucey!" that his composure broke and he fled the Great Hall, laughter following behind him. Harry and Kestrel shared a high five under the table, but seeing Neville with a massive grin on his face was all the reward they needed. He'd been feeling kind of down since Pucey had brought up his mum, and his house-mates had been giving him pitying looks since the incident as well.
"You know he's going to know it was one of us right?"
"Nah, the charms used for this were way above a First Year's level. Besides I enlisted outside help to get it in place. So really it'll take him a while to trace it back to us."
"That and it's not like he hasn't probably done something else to warrant a little payback between now and then anyway." Kestrel said grinning, finishing off the last of her breakfast.
Ginny nodded in agreement. "That is probably true. Well come on, we should head down to the train if we want to get a compartment to ourselves."
The Hogwarts Express rolled into Kings Cross Station a little after 7:30 in the evening, the platform crowded with parents waiting to collect their children. Waiting near the middle of the platform were James Potter and Remus Lupin.
"So how do you think they've really been doing?" Remus asked. His brown eyes were tired and his skin had a pale, sunken look to it, like he hadn't slept for several days. "You know they probably left out quite a few details in their letters home."
James nodded, hands shoved into the pockets of his robe. "You're probably right Remus, but they have each other to lean on, and you know that together they can handle pretty much anything."
"That's true. I am however worried about the reactions Harry seems to be having around Quirrell. He mentioned that it kept happening in a few of his other letters."
"Yeah, I don't know what to make of that. Frank is checking, discretely mind, with a few mates of his in the Department of Mysteries, seeing if they have any insight. But Harry's scar is unique, no one's ever seen anything like it, so strange things are bound to come to light. We'll just take them as they come." James straightened as the Express gave a final bellow of steam and came to a stop. A few moments later there were clicks as the carriage doors unlocked, and the Platform was flooded with a sea of students.
James and Remus scanned the crowd for any sign of their three wayward miscreants. They didn't have to look for long when the saw a shock of hair changing colour from black, to bright blue, to green, yellow, and back to black. Kestrel emerged from the crowd and threw herself at the tiredly, smiling Remus. "Uncle Remus!"
He caught her around the middle when she leaped at him and spun her around once. "Hello pup, how are you?"
"I'm great, now. Hiya Uncle James!"
"Hello, luv. Where are your brothers?" James ruffled her hair, which had settled on yellow again, showing her happiness.
"Getting our trunks I think."
"Yeah, and next time you can get your own trunk, Black." Harry walked up with a smirking Neville, dragging two trunks behind him, an annoyed look on his face.
"You lost the bet fair and square, Potter. Get over it." She stuck her tongue out at her friend, who returned the gesture.
"Do we even want to know?" James asked as he hugged Harry and Neville around the shoulders, while Remus shrunk their trunks.
All three laughed and chorused together, "No!"
James shook his head and handed Harry and Neville their shrunk trunks, while Kestrel pocketed her own. "All right then. Well let's get you three back home. I bet you're starving. Gran Longbottom said she'd have dinner ready by the time we got back to the Manor."
They were joined halfway through dinner by Sirius and Frank, whom Neville and Kestrel leaped from their seats to welcome home. Augusta Longbottom scowled as they returned to their seats. "You two know better than to get up from the table without permission."
"Sorry Gran," they said, heads bowed in apology.
"Apology unnecessary, but accepted. I was going to say, you both know better, but since this is your first time away from home, and you haven't seen your parents in nearly four months, I will let it slide this time." She gave a kind smile over her cup of tea.
Dinner continued after that with everyone talking, catching up with what one another had done over the time they had been separated. It didn't take long after everyone had eaten and dessert was served, that talk turned to events at Hogwarts, and more specifically about Quirrel, Harry's scar, and Neville and Kestrel's research into their out of the ordinary sorting.
"What have you two managed to turn up on that front?" Sirius asked, leaning back in his chair, arms crossed over his chest.
"Not much, I'm sad to say." Said Neville. "Our original thought was the Castle itself had mucked about with our Sorting. So we looked into that angle first, but came up with nothing. Then Kestrel had the brilliant idea to find a source that predates Hogwarts History books."
"What predates Hogwarts History?" Sirius asked confused.
"That's easy dad, someone who was a part of the History of Hogwarts. I asked the Bloody Baron!"
"And he answered you?" said Frank, surprise clearly written on his face.
Kestrel nodded. "Though… it's not that he wasn't much help, it's just that his answer lead us to more dead ends." She and Neville went on to explain how the Baron thought it may have been the Spirits of the Four Founders who interfered in their sorting. They had been looking for places around the Castle where the essence of their Spirits might congregate, but so far had come up with nothing.
Frank looked thoughtful as he took a sip of his wine. "I'll ask the gents in the DoM to look into this as well. They may have more luck, and they're lacking in things to research right now anyway. Apparently nothing interesting is happening in the Wizarding world right now." The adults shared a laugh at this while the three children rolled their eyes.
"Oh, speaking of interesting," started Harry. "We never wrote to you about the Giant three-headed dog we found at school."
"What?!" The horrified shout of four adults resulted in the quickest explanation in history, as well as several assurances that they had not been hurt, and no, they did not go looking for it again.
"Why would Dumbledore, have a Cerberus locked up in Hogwarts, that doesn't make sense. Especially if all he has holding it in is a simple locking spell that a First Year can counter." Frank was more furious than any of the kids had ever seen him.
"Well we figure since it seems to be standing on some sort of door, it might be guarding something important. Though, why they would hide it in a school, and not keep it at Gringotts is beyond us." Harry said finishing off the last of his cake.
"What with that break in that happened after your Birthday Harry, maybe they thought what ever it was would be safer near Dumbledore than locked up underground somewhere." This of course led to another round of question and answer, while Madam Longbottom left to go write a Howler to a certain Headmaster. The children did not end up going to bed until very late that evening.
Since they had completed all the homework they had been given by Professors before they left, they had nothing but free time on their hands. They spent most of their holiday leading up to Christmas playing Quidditch or having a Prank War when their father's were home. They received an invitation from Ginny on Christmas Eve inviting them to a New Years Eve Party, to which they replied in the affirmative almost immediately. There was supposed to be some form of Ministry gathering at Longbottom Manor that night and the children had no desire to attend that, to which their father's readily agreed, though Augusta was rather annoyed. As the future Heads of their Houses, they should get used to such things.
Between Quidditch and pranking, Kestrel still found time to comb through the Longbottom Library looking for books about the four Founders of Hogwarts. They still had yet to find a place where they may be able to contact the Spirits of the Founders anywhere in Hogwarts. She had found a few references to Slytherin's Chamber of Secrets, but nothing solid as to where they might find it. She wanted something that includes all four Founders, something besides Hogwarts, which they all had a part in creating, something or some place that contains a bit of all four of their magic.
It was as she was reading a book entailing the achievements of all the Founders that a possible solution came to her. She quickly flipped to the appendix and searched out where in the book the Sorting Hat was mentioned. She flipped to the proper page and sped through the words, as she reached the end a look of disappointment came over her face. It was only Gryffindor who had created the Hat; no magical assistance was given by any of the other Founders. Kestrel slammed the book shut in annoyance and left the library to join her brothers for a fly before dinner, before she got really upset and set the library on fire. Again.