AN: with the last chapter GrandNinjaMasterRen tipped the number of favourites for my little story over 2000 o.O I really can't believe this is truly happening! I love all the reviews you are writing me, sparking little interesting ideas and spurring me on to keep writing. So thank you all for your continued support!

Enjoy the chapter!

I included dates for your convenience and to keep the pacing clear.

oooOOooo

Halloween

17th of October

"You seem to be recovering well, Lord Slytherin," one of the few Ladies present remarked with a smile – playing with her jewellery as if to draw attention to the expensive show of wealth – clearly alluding to the incident from earlier this month when he had been gravely injured.

"Healer Greengrass is an expert in his field, Madame," Marvolo answered with a straight face he had trouble maintaining. It was getting old that everyone felt the need to comment on this episode, so even as it had brought him another wave of sympathy and good press, he now wished the public would let it rest. "And Potions Master Snape is the best I know. So I never doubted I would make a full recovery."

This month's big pre-session party was being held at Griffin House, as the other members of the Wizengamot had more or less subtly hinted that they wanted to visit the home of the Slytherin family and the last of the Potters. Currently, a mix of mostly conservative members, with a few of the neutrals and more open-minded liberal members – most called them the light faction – sprinkled into the crowd, were mingling in the rooms Marvolo had the elves prepare for this occasion.

"What is this?" Lord Hawkworth – one of those conservatives he had never approached, as the family wasn't influential enough – inquired, waving one hand negligently at an unframed painting proudly displayed on an elaborately carved stand in one corner of the room.

Marvolo walked over, after excusing himself from his current conversation partner. He had placed the picture there deliberately. After all, it was a picture Henry had created with his own hands and sent to Marvolo. He quite liked the winding knot of snakes his son had painted, the selection of colours, the composition… it was a little rough along the edges, but to Marvolo's eye – he had trained himself in the arts to fit in with the pure-blooded elite – it held the promise of a great artist.

"This, Lord Hawkworth, is the depiction of a pile of snakes, as one can find where they try to conserve warmth, or when males compete for one female… Why do you ask?" he spoke to the sneering man, nonchalantly brushing along the edge of the stand, smiling over the gift he had been given by his son.

"It's a muggle painting!" the old Lord – easily in his seventies – almost shouted in disgust. "It's not moving!"

A brow rose slowly towards Marvolo's carefully styled hair. "Have you ever spent any time considering what goes into the making of one of our portraits, landscapes, or still lives?" The younger Lord asked sarcastically. "No?" They were attracting a steadily growing audience, and the still sour-looking Lord Hawkworth was deflating by the second. "Then let me educate you." Marvolo didn't even try to keep the condescending tone out of his voice. "There is a Guild of Painters with offices in most major magical settlements around the world. They guard the magic needed to animate paintings, give them some resemblance of life, quite fiercely, and only accept those witches and wizard into their ranks who are already displaying an affinity for the art of painting."

Turning a little to the painting, gesturing at it with a proud expression, Marvolo changed his stance to address the others now all gathered in this corner of the room. "This was painted by my son, Henry, and he sent it to me. I'm contemplating how best to frame it. Lucius," Marvolo turned to the blond man standing next to Benjamin and Xerxes, "can you recommend a good artisan to frame a picture?"

"Of course I can, Marvolo," Lucius nodded his head as he was considered whom, of the many he knew, he should recommend. "Do you have a particular style in mind? If so, I certainly can get the right contact for you."

There were some murmurs over the tactless old Hawkworth, some compliments to be forwarded to the artist, and then more talk about the proposals to be discussed in the next meeting.

Hawkworth was a thorn in their flesh when it came to getting laws passed. Still feeling resentment over being ignored by Voldemort and his Death Eaters in the past, at being dismissed as unimportant and useless to their goals, now the Lord used every opportunity to take his petty revenge.

Maybe it was time for the old man to give his seat over to his son, who was much more sympathetic to the young Lord Slytherin… Well, if this were to happen, it would need some careful planning and manipulation. The man still did not have much influence and so was no real threat, and there was so much to do at the moment already. It probably was not worth the risk he would have to take if he were to act soon. No need to rush.

Smiling, Marvolo played the gracious host for the rest of the afternoon and early evening. Socializing in this fashion was at the same time exhausting and refreshing. He really had missed this at the end of his last war.

ooOoo

"You like the picture?" Harry asked a little surprised, not sure what to feel. Marvolo just had told him about the evening before when he had entertained a group of Wizengamot members at their home, gleefully retelling how he had shamed that one Lord for his trying to make Marvolo look bad for displaying a picture that had not been animated.

A surprised look flitted over the handsome face of his guardian in the communication mirror. "Why shouldn't I like your picture, Henry? It is very well done, and that snakes are the subject matter only adds to the appeal for me." Before Harry could regain enough of his wits to answer to this, Marvolo went on. "Do you have a suggestion where we might hang it? I have sent it to be framed by a French artisan – an expert in his field, as far as Lucius knows – and it should be back soon."

Blinking a moment at the expectant face, Harry's thoughts were scrambling. "Uhhh… what's with the space in between the door to the music room and the library?" Harry suggested, not really sure if those two rooms were on the same floor, and if the space he had in mind – between two doors to whatever rooms – was even big enough to fit the picture.

Tapping one finger to his chin in thought, Marvolo contemplated a moment, before he answered decisively. "I think it might be best if we look for a fitting place together, once you are back for the Yule break. Or what do you think?"

Nodding, a little off balance, Harry just agreed. "Yeah, we can do that."

"Speaking about the holidays, have you made any plans to meet with friends? Because you are expected to accompany me to several social functions as my heir. You are excused from most of them, because you are at school." The other wizard made a face, startling a nervous laugh out of Harry, which earned him an eye-roll. "I will remind you the first season after you graduate and all the mothers start pestering you. I will have to dodge witches left and right, starting at the end of November. And probably fend off offers for marriage contracts between their family and ours." A sigh made its way over to Harry, and he was glad that Marvolo wouldn't insist on arranging a marriage for him.

With a start, Harry realized that Marvolo was waiting for an answer to his question. "I've made no plans so far. It hasn't come up. We're all too much involved in homework and classes. We have Quidditch training three times a week…" Harry trailed off, wondering whom he would like to meet during the holidays. He certainly would like to get away from Marvolo for a time if he could manage, but what would the Weasleys think of his visiting? They had offered in the past, but would they again?

"The first game will be the first weekend in November between Slytherin and Gryffindor, right?" Marvolo asked, changing the topic slightly.

Harry nodded, enthusiasm overriding his tiredness for the moment. "Yes, we all look forward to it. It's too early to know how the weather will be, but we're training for several different scenarios. At the moment we mostly train to get Ron up to speed. He's really good when he feels like no one's watching… that probably will be a problem, though."

"I will tell Barty to keep the day free of appointments. I really want to see you playing. It has been quite some time since I have watched a game of Quidditch. And longer still since I felt that it would be more than an obligation." Marvolo seemed really interested and Harry felt compelled to make a snarky remark.

"And will you sit in the Gryffindor stands, wearing Gryffindor colours, sir?" Harry tried to picture this and had real trouble with the idea.

A smirk appeared on the youthful face under crimson eyes. "I guess your friends will prefer if no adult sits among them. I plan to sit with the faculty. As for which team I will cheer on, I admit to being in a tight spot. Cheering for Slytherin would be appropriate because the House is named after our family, founded by our ancestor. On the other hand, you are the Seeker of the Gryffindor team, and not cheering for the team my son plays on would be odd. I guess I will have to cheer for neither, or for both teams."

Harry had to concede that this could work. "I still have an essay for charms to finish. So…"

"You wish to end our call." Marvolo nodded and sighed. "I probably should finish on my own homework. Think about what you want to do during the holidays. I think we should visit some of your family's businesses, you should tell me if you have any preferences. For now, have a good evening."

They finished their call and Harry stood from his bed to walk over to his desk. He placed the mirror into the drawer and picked up the folded piece of parchment he had been moving around since the summer.

The day he had been adopted and Marvolo had explained how life was to continue from then on, Harry had written questions on this piece of parchment. Questions he had wanted to ask of the Headmaster. Until now he hadn't had the time or opportunity to do so, but the pure act of writing them down had shaken his belief in the Headmaster and his motivations. If that had been Marvolo's plan at the time, it had worked out pretty well.

But it had felt like a spur-of-the-moment decision. Looking back, Harry wasn't so sure that he remembered everything correctly. He had been under the influence of a calming potion, and pretty distracted besides.

Harry smoothed the parchment out, looking at the few questions he had written down then. He still didn't have the answers to these, but wasn't sure if he even still wanted them. With the way the man had reacted to the pranks that had been played on him – or to the murder attempt – it was pretty obvious that Albus Dumbledore did not have Harry's best interest in mind when making his decisions.

Marvolo probably was the same, having his own agenda behind his actions, but considering his actions so far – the emergency portkey, the vow, the mind-healer, daily talks over the mirror – his agenda seemed to include Harry's being healthy, informed, and reasonably happy.

Thinking back to his dreams of someone coming and taking him away from the Dursleys from the time before he got his Hogwarts letter, the way Marvolo treated him came pretty close to what he had dreamed of.

He actually had sent the picture he had painted to be framed, wanted to display it somewhere in their home. Wanted Harry to help find a good place to hang it… Refolding the parchment Harry decided that he would use an opportunity to ask for answers if he ever got one, but that he wouldn't try to create an opportunity. At this time there wasn't much the Headmaster could say or do to compensate for his past actions.

It was a little ironic, considering that Marvolo had rated a second chance after killing his parents and making him an orphan in the first place. But Dumbledore had been the one to place him with the Dursleys, had never checked up on him, and had sent him back even after he had asked to stay somewhere else. He could have checked then, couldn't he?

Abandoning that train of thought, Harry sat down to get started on the essay he had planned out earlier in the library. Ron wasn't approving of the group's new study habits and had started to spend time with Seamus and Dean whenever he felt he could get away with waiting a bit longer before finishing his homework.

Hermione was starting to despair, and Harry was unsure how to help his friends find a good middle ground. Hermione could get rather obsessed with studying, but Ron tended to slack on his work, doing only the least he needed to pass. There was no easy way to bring those two attitudes under one hat.

oooOooo

20th of October

They walked from the room upstairs down to one of the bigger studies, leaving behind a raging Bellatrix, despite the calming draught Greengrass had administered when she didn't cooperate with the Squib Mind-Healer.

Rodolphus was at his wit's end. Had been for a long time now. Even before their Lord's fall and their long stay at Azkaban, he had known his wife had fallen prey to the infamous Black madness. In a way he was happy that they never had had children. Not only because they would have had to leave them behind when they had been sentenced to Azkaban for life, but also because they would have been prone to inherit the same unstable mind.

He trailed behind the others through the dreary hallways, resigning himself to losing for good the woman he once had loved. In a way he had lost her a long time ago, but to finally accept it and move on was different from just knowing it.

They reached the room, sat down around a small table, and filled their cups with the tea appearing on it moments after they had all found their seats. Rodolphus got big eyes watching his Lord add three spoons heaped with sugar to his tea. It was the first time he saw the man drink tea or eat at all. He never would have guessed the Dark Lord liked his tea overly sweet.

Shaking his head, he focused his attention back to the conversation taking place.

"If there is a way to help Mrs. Lestrange, then it is a long and involved process." The Mind-Healer gave her explanation to the whole group turned in the direction of the Dark Lord, Xerxes and Rodolphus mere spectators even when the whole affair concerned them more than almost anyone else.

"If I had only the use of non-magical remedies, I would put her under medication to counter her manic mood swings. Then I would try to determine if she experiences auditory or visual hallucinations. Depending on this, there would be a need for extensive therapy. Talking mostly… but as she is clearly not inclined to participate in any form of therapy for her state of mind… I'm not sure it is possible to help her back into life as an independent individual." She looked almost neutral, but Rodolphus was almost certain that he had seen a flicker of fear in her eyes. He was sceptical that any muggle method of healing could help at all, but his Lord had said that muggles had advanced in the care for ailments of the mind further than their healers had. There was even talk among the Death Eaters that the same woman regularly met with their Lord's heir to help him cope with all the changes.

Rodolphus didn't think that … well, maybe he ought to change his perception of these things, if he wanted to remain useful to his Lord. It was clear to Rodolphus that the Dark Lord gave Madame Goyle the same respect as Healer Malcolm Greengrass.

"I could get medical studies and samples of medication for you, Lord Slytherin, if you want a Potions Master and Healer to look for a magical adaption. That is all I can say and offer, sir." The woman fell silent, leaving a strained absence of sound in the room.

"Thank you, Healer Goyle." the Dark Lord said, seemingly deep in thought. "Your nephew will take you back home. If your expertise is needed again, I will contact you."

Through the words exchanged between the Healer and his Lord and his father, Rodolphus sat in his seat idly tracing patterns on the leather of his armrest, thinking. His Lord had spun plans to find new lives for all of them that had been in Azkaban, as he had done for Barty. The young wizard was happy in his position as the assistant of Lord Slytherin, planning the wizard's social calendar, handling the daily owl-mail, and moving freely amongst the British magical community once again. His and Rabastan's bodies would be among the first to be found, they both were planning and considering different possible new lives, but as they had still a lot of healing to do, there was time left before they would step back into the open.

"Well, that was informative, but sadly not really a solution, now, was it?" Xerxes sighed, settling back into his own chair, rubbing a hand over his eyes.

Rodolphus looked up in time to see the Dark Lord empty his cup and nod. "You are right, Xerxes, but looking back on her behaviour in the past, and what I have seen in the last weeks, I didn't really hope that there would be an easy solution." Dark red eyes moved calculatingly between Rodolphus and his father. "I propose that we give Severus' new potion, that we give to the kids, a try. It might help her, but if it doesn't, I have a plan in mind how she might still be an asset for our cause." In a rare – no, a previously unseen – show of vulnerability, the Dark Lord slumped back in his chair, closing his eyes, and took a deep breath. "If one of you has a better idea, I'm all ears."

The eyes of father and son met over the table, both equally tired and resigned to the fact that Bella was most likely a lost cause. Waving to his father, signalling that he should be the one to say it, as the Head of their Family, Rodolphus emptied his cup of tea, before refilling the delicate china with steaming tea, adding cream and a dash of rum from a small flask he carried around with him.

It might not be wise, but he needed a little drink.

"If a dose of the potion is ready, I think we should get to it. With the young children coming from less-than-desirable situations it works pretty well. I'm not sure it will work so well on Bellatrix, but we certainly should try."

"Then let's get to it." With decisive force the Dark Lord pushed himself out of his seat and walked to the door, rightfully expecting his Death Eaters to follow, as they did only seconds later.

ooOoo

24th of October

It had been a few days since Bella had taken the potion created by Severus. They had had to force her to drink it, making use of the Imperius curse so as to make sure that she wouldn't choke on it or be otherwise bodily harmed.

Her behaviour hadn't changed till now and probably wouldn't. She was still insisting that she wanted to go hunt Mudbloods and Muggles, begging her Lord to let her go out and fight for him and his goals. Of course he declined her offers and begging, telling her she still wasn't healthy enough not to be a liability in a fight.

But Marvolo felt decidedly better about the whole thing now. Healer Goyle's assessment of Bellatrix and the fact that they had given her the potion... that he had exhausted every avenue of action available to him, appeased his half of the bond between liege and vassal.

He might have brought the severe situation on her by indulging her madness and even pushing her further along into the depths, until she went after a pair of Aurors after he had vanished. But now he had done all he could think of to rectify the situation.

What to do next? Should he imprison her himself? Hand her over, claiming she had come running to his door? Whatever he would decide, it was common courtesy to ask her husband for ideas first.

So he had summoned Xerxes and his two sons to his study at Headquarters and was now waiting for them. Plans spread around him, Marvolo worked until there was a knock on his door.

"Come in!" he called out, waving his hand over the parchments, papers, and maps, sorting them into neat stacks at the side of his desk.

"My Lord." Three men had entered, going to one knee in proper greeting. A surge of satisfaction coursed through Marvolo. He really liked the reverence given to him. He had worked long and hard to be acknowledged in this way. Another feeling he had lost due to his mangled soul.

"Rise," he ordered, standing himself to walk over to the nicer seating area in front of the fireplace. "I called you here to discuss the fate of Bellatrix." A lazy wave with his hand indicated the others should take a seat and they did. First Xerxes sat across from Marvolo in the other wingback chair, leaving his two sons to take the love seat facing the fire.

After Marvolo had called for refreshments – tea and small cakes with an apple filling – he looked over to the youngest Lestrange. "All attempts to help your wife regain her sense have failed. If neither of you has any more suggestions on how to help her, I feel it is time to decide how to prevent her from doing any harm to our plans."

One look at Rodolphus, and Marvolo knew that there would be no resistance from the wizard if he should propose handing Bella over, or even killing her.

"I'm unsure what we should do, my Lord," the considerably recovered wizard said, choosing his words with care. "She obviously is beyond hope, if it is possible to gain something from the situation, we should use it. Maybe she can be included in the plan that will result in us two being declared dead?"

Nodding slightly, Marvolo turned his attention to Xerxes and Rabastan, silently asking for their input. Not getting any response. The both of them didn't seem to have any idea either.

"There is one other concern to consider." Now it was for Marvolo to select his words with care. He didn't want to reveal his method of immortality to more people if he could avoid it. "Before that night I gave something of great value into her care with instructions to place it into a vault at Gringotts. I'm not sure where she placed it and would like to get it back as soon as possible."

"A golden cup with two handles?" Rodolphus asked, getting a nod from Marvolo in answer. "I saw her pack it into her pocket one day we had planned to visit the bank. I think she placed it in her personal vault. One of the smaller vaults, traditionally used by the wives of Lestrange men."

"So only she can access it?" Marvolo frowned. That would be a problem. As long as she was alive, there was no way the goblins would let anyone access the vault but her. They really relished every opportunity to make the lives of wizards harder if they could get away with it. So maybe it would be better if Bellatrix was found dead?

Xerxes leaned forward, bracing his arms on his legs. "If I remember correctly, there was a stipulation in the marriage contract regarding the obligation to provide at least one child. If there had been wilful hindrance of having a child on her part, it would have been grounds for a divorce or for demanding compensation." He looked apologetic towards his sons. "It was something I insisted on, because I didn't trust her nature. She never seemed like a woman interested in being a mother, but I wanted to make sure they would have at least one child. Now I still wish for my sons to have a family, but with Hermione, the pressure to continue the family is not as great." This information was new to Marvolo, but considering what-all he had deemed unimportant at the time, it was no wonder he hadn't asked or forgotten what he had been told about the marriage between the two.

"I could claim everything she has in compensation for the violation of that stipulation. So it would be sure that the contents of her vault will not go back to the Blacks. It might take some time, but I think this is the safest way," Xerxes continued, while Rabastan levitated the second pastry to his plate without moving from his seat.

"It sounds like a viable way. Maybe it would be best if you started the process now, citing the discovery of your heiress as the reason you finally move to cut ties with her…" There had been some whispering about Xerxes' reluctance to cast his sons out of the family and to dissolve the marriage. The first was more or less accepted, because that would cut off all possible bastard children as well. But that Bellatrix was still a Lestrange was something that caused some raised eyebrows in society.

"So she can be the scapegoat for the next planned reduction of the escapees?" Rabastan wanted to know.

"That would be best. I have a place in mind, and we should use the bodies soon, or they will start to decay. If I start with altering Bella's memories tonight, we can set the events in motion fairly soon."

Planning was swift from there, and the next few days saw gossip about the decision of Lord Lestrange to finally remove Bellatrix Lestrange, born Black, from the family. Some were suspicious of why he had decided to do so now, and some were happy that he finally no longer felt the need to keep the woman in the family, hoping for an heir despite all odds.

Marvolo worked diligently over a longer period of time on altering Bella's memories to match a wild chase through France, discord between the escapees, and a heated discussion getting out of hand.

Soon the number of escapees would drop some more, hopefully helping calm the almost frantic search for them.

oooOOooo

27th of October

Severus had spent the entire morning cleaning up his quarters. Of course there was no actual dirt or dust anywhere, as the Hogwarts house-elves were a diligent bunch, but there had been old potions magazines in odd stacks on different flat surfaces, some overly long extra essays lying about… In short, a level of disarray most would have named clean, but did unnerve Severus.

Especially as Sonja would be visiting today.

After a last look around his rooms – nervously ignoring the spotless bedroom – Severus made his way down to the edge of the wards so he could apparate to London and collect Sonja from her home.

The moment she stepped out of her flat, smiling, Severus felt an answering smile spread over his face. It was a feeling he was growing more accustomed to by the day.

"Severus! I'm so excited to finally get to see Hogwarts!" They embraced, exchanging a chaste and short kiss, before stepping back so they could look each other in the eye. "And I'm a little nervous. Why does the Headmaster want to meet me?"

Severus sighed, hooking her hand in the crook of his arm, his other hand firmly grasping her hand. "I guess he is mostly curious who the woman is who has finally found my heart. And it is very likely he fears to lose his spy, as he used my continued attachment to my childhood love to pressure me into doing his bidding," Severus explained while they walked slowly to a secluded spot often used for apparation because it was out of the way.

"So what should I say, how should I act to make it easier for you?" Sonja asked, anticipating his need for her cooperation so as not to complicate the delicate balance he had with Albus Dumbledore.

"Try not to meet his eyes. He is an exceptional Legilimens, and has no qualms using this ability against everyone if it suits his needs. Other than that... be yourself. I wouldn't demand that you act a certain way just to make my life easier." Severus would love to watch Sonja and Dumbledore go head to head over some of the topics he knew they would never agree on.

Sonja smiled up at him with mischief in her eyes. "But what if I want to act so I will make your life easier, Severus? Would you provide me with the information I need to do so if it is my wish?"

A dark head was inclined in defeat. If she wanted to protect him, it wasn't his place to deny her the chance. "If you want to make my life easier, you shouldn't let him see that you are open to exploring all kinds of potions – dark as well as light – you shouldn't bring up things that reflect badly on him, and should appear suspicious of all that is termed dark by the Ministry and those that proclaim to be the epitome of Light."

Her laughter filled his ears. She was obviously delighted by his list of things that would make Albus Dumbledore suspicious. Or the face Severus had made while listing them. It was hard to tell.

"He's pretty shallow in his world view, isn't he?" Sonja asked, not waiting for an answer before she continued. "I will do my best to stick to the image of a light-oriented potions enthusiast. So, take me to your home, now that you have seen mine."

"I haven't actually been in your flat," Severus remarked with a smirk on his face. They had danced around this topic a few times, neither in a rush to advance their relationship in this direction. "Ready?" The Potions Master asked his fiancée before spinning into the thin tube of apparation at her nod.

ooOoo

The village of Hogsmeade looked quite cosy, as it had the first time she had been here, but today Sonja didn't only go to the Three Broomsticks, or one of the shops with potions ingredients, or books. No, today she would get to see Hogwarts for the first time.

Walking at a leisurely pace alongside Severus, up the hill and past the train station, Sonja asked her partner about his lessons, why he taught the potions the way he did, if they were taught in a particular order. And other questions along this line.

When the castle came into view the first time, Sonja stopped and brought Severus to a stop beside her.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?" Severus spoke into her ear, leaning down to her, inhaling as if savouring her scent.

"Magnificent!" she breathed, briefly wondering what a Muggle would see, standing here. She had read, and Severus had told her, that there were spells layered into the wards to let the castle appear as a ruin should a non-magical person lay an eye on it. "Will we be living here?"

"If you want to. And if I'm still a professor here once we are married. We will see…" There was no uncertainty in Severus' smooth dark voice, but she agreed with him that the times were turbulent, and it was quite possible that all would change for Severus with his position as a spy.

They made their way over the grounds towards the school, not seeing many students out and about. It was a rather cold day, so it wasn't really surprising.

What was surprising was that the Headmaster was waiting for them in the entrance hall – big enough to fit an entire house in, much to Sonja's surprise – smiling overly bright.

"Severus, my boy, who is the lovely lady at your side?" The old man had opened his arms as if he wanted to embrace them, blue eyes behind half-moon spectacles twinkling like mad. Feeling Severus stiffening beside her, Sonja fixed a bright smile on her face, avoiding eye contact by inspecting the interesting surroundings.

"Sonja, darling, may I introduce the Headmaster of Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore. Headmaster, my fiancée, Sonja Jiggers." Sonja only briefly looked at the Headmaster, shaking his hand, before once again looking around.

"You have a really impressive building here, Headmaster. It was nice of you to invite me here." Squeezing Severus' arm lightly in reassurance, Sonja smiled winningly, watching a few students frantically whispering while walking by.

"Yes, the castle is rather magnificent. I know the Jiggers Family, but I don't remember you attending our lovely school…" And there was a gap to fill in, as Severus had told her several times, a habit the old wizard seemed to have, using it often, probably because most people couldn't stand leaving gaps, or perhaps even thinking they were giving an elderly man help with telling him something he had known but since forgotten.

"That is because I didn't, Headmaster. This is my first visit here, and Severus has promised me a tour of the castle and his lab."

They managed to ditch the Headmaster after they had been to the owlery and the astronomy tower. It seemed the old wizard was decent enough to let a young couple in love have a little privacy to kiss – Severus wouldn't tolerate her calling it snogging – and enjoy the view. And it was a nice view, even when the days were getting shorter and more dreary by the day.

"So we can make a tick by snogging on the astronomy tower on the list." the young Squib said on their way down, a spring in her step and a smile on her slightly reddened face.

"What list?" Severus asked a little suspicious.

"The list I made of things to do in Hogwarts, together with you, my love." The look he gave her for this had her giggling, which made his lips twitch. "You wanted to show me your lab and the potion you're working on?"

Taking her hand in his, entwining their fingers, he nodded, getting them walking again. "Yes, I have the base finished and would like us to test it if you agree." The lilt of his voice made a question out of the last sentence.

With a soft smile, Sonja stepped into Severus' way, rose to her toes, and gave her grumpy Potions Master a small, chaste kiss. "I will gladly help you with your experimentation, and will test it together with you. And then we will have a nice private meal in your quarters?"

By the time the third group of students broke out in heated whispers once the couple walking hand-in-hand had passed them, a scowl was etched into Severus' face. "My reputation is going to go to hell," he sighed.

"Nonsense!" Sonja interrupted his morose statement. "They will learn that the fact that you let one person get close will not change your personality. Or do you think I will have such a deep effect on you?"

He gave her a kiss. "You are changing me and my life, don't ever doubt that. But I agree that having you in my life will not change my professor persona one bit."

Once they reached the private potions laboratory, they started to discuss Severus' attempts at brewing a potion geared to identifying the probability of a couple having magically gifted children of good health. It was a lively discussion about alternative stirring patterns, whether to use scarab-eyes or the brightly coloured forewings of the beetles, if a simple pewter cauldron was better or if an iron one would yield better results.

Later that evening Severus brought Sonja home again and came back into his rooms. A small cauldron containing a royal blue potion no longer bubbling – that, according to Severus' theory, would indicate a high chance of magical children for him and Sonja – was waiting in the lab to be cleaned up. But for now, Severus would sit down on the love seat Sonja and he had snogged on – evidently another of the items on the ominous list – sipping on a small tumbler of fine whiskey, basking in the good memories of the last hours.

As Sonja had managed to dodge the Headmaster's attempts to get more information out of her directly, he probably would tap into his sources and probably would get the information he wanted rather quickly. That would result in another meeting with the old meddler. If the man could just stop calling him my boy it would be easier to put up with him and his demands.

As soon as his Lord's heir and Lily's son graduated, he would resign from his post and spend his time with his family and research.

It was a lovely dream, and it felt good to finally have one again.

oooOOooo

28th of October

Against the roaring flames, the stars of the night sky were invisible. It seemed that far too many people were milling about, keeping the gaping crowd at bay, drenching the surrounding forest with water to keep the hot burning fire from spreading.

It was an eerie scene, illuminated by the flickering red light of the fire and the flashing blue lights of several vehicles, the only sounds that of the fire, water being pumped, and people yelling, creating a deafening cacophony.

Percy's French wasn't good, but he had caught a few words here and there which led him to believe the muggles assumed that there was some substance in the house making the flames that hot and impossible to extinguish with water. Rolling his eyes, the red-head in a suit – he was in possession of one since he had started working at the Ministry, anticipating the need to interact with the Muggle Government sometime – snorted exasperatedly. Of course this fire was not the result of some silly chemical, but some really powerful dark magic. It wasn't quite Fiendfyre, but it was dark enough that the casting had alerted the French Ministry. Calling several aurors to the scene.

Once they had seen the woman dancing around the burning two-storey house, laughing like mad, they had alerted the British. Percy had been appointed the contact for the French Ministry in the case of the fleeing Death Eaters who had been seen in various places around France right at the beginning at the whole debacle. At first Percy had been reluctant, but he quickly realized this was a chance to repair some of the damage his career had taken, due to the disaster that the Tri-Wizard Tournament had been. He already knew some of the people he would have to work with, and his French was getting better. So who else would be able to do this job right?

Looking down to the bound witch near him, rocking back and forth on her knees, eyes glued to the devastation started by the wand they had found on her, Percy was glad two Aurors were standing next to her. He wasn't confident that he would have been able to contain Bellatrix Lestrange even in her clearly deranged state.

They would take her back to Britain as soon as the Minister – the French and the British – had approved the portkey to do so, but Percy would remain behind, coordinating the evidence-gathering. There were several fading apparation trails that needed to be followed, and who knew what they would find in the house once the fire was under control. If there was anything left at all.

With a sigh, Percy resigned himself to a long night and several long days to follow.

ooOoo

29th of October

House burns down in south France!

That was the blaring headline of the Prophet on Monday morning. Hermione read snippets of the article to the Gryffindors sitting around her, Harry only listened with one ear while he contemplated the mirror call with his guardian from the evening before.

Marvolo had informed him that there would be news of one Death Eater captured and several killed the next morning. And he had informed Harry that it was a front to give those supposedly killed a way to start their lives from scratch.

Harry wasn't sure how he felt about this. The fact that he had been told as well as the fact that it had happened, that Marvolo was planning such things, and that he had told Harry about it. It was hard. On the one hand, Harry longed to trust someone, wanted a family, someone to care about him and not only because he was the friend of one of their children. On the other hand, it felt wrong that he seemed to have found what he wished for with the murderer of his parents, a wizard still plotting murder and the breaking of laws.

"They have found three bodies in the house, or what they think are the remains of three bodies. Currently they aren't sure if all three belong to the escapees, but the remains are large enough to belong to adults." Hermione was distinctly green around her nose and didn't touch her food again during breakfast that day.

"Good riddance!" Dean commented between bites of scrambled eggs. "When the Aurors wait long enough, the problem will solve itself!" A few of the Gryffindor boys laughed at that, but Hermione looked sceptical.

"I don't think that it'll work that way," Hermione said, folding the paper and handing it over to Parvati, who was reaching for it from further down the table. "It's strange to think that that woman is related to me, even if only by marriage, and cousins once removed… still."

"Don't think too much about it, 'Mione!" Ron said from across the table, after swallowing a large mouthful of bacon and fried mushrooms. "You are a Gryffindor, after all, nothing like that insane witch or those two brothers."

Hermione got her notes for this day's classes out of her bag, ignoring the speculation starting up around them. A smart move on her part, at least in Harry's opinion, because he knew the feeling of being torn between two halves of oneself. Well, that was the way he often felt, it was quite possible that Hermione didn't have that same problem. Xerxes Lestrange had a pretty tame official face, even if the family had a tainted reputation.

"Hey, Potter." someone said, standing behind Harry's back. Harry turned half on the bench so he could see who was talking to him. It was one of his year-mates from Ravenclaw, Terry Boot, standing there, looking rather excited. "Hey, Boot. And it's Slytherin-Potter, now." It would look odd if he let it go, were someone to call him by only part of his name. There were so many rules of etiquette to follow, Harry wasn't quite sure how he had managed to get so many of them into his head over the short time he had had lessons this summer.

"Whatever!" the other boy waved away the correction on how to address his classmate. "I noticed a note on the board in the common room this morning. You and Granger are starting a duelling club? What do you plan to teach?"

"Well, with the change in Defence Professor in the middle of the first term, and the theory-heavy approach the new professor has, we thought that having a safe place to practice for our OWL exams would do us all good. As for what we'll be teaching… I thought it would be mostly useful, versatile spells that can be helpful in many situations." In fact, Harry had started to compile a list of spells he thought would be the most helpful to learn, while Hermione was compiling a list of spells that were known to be asked for quite often in the practical OWL exams.

"Useful in many situations? Like what, exactly? We had the same set of professors, Potter, what could you two teach the rest of us?" The other boy seemed quite sceptical, and Harry had to concede that it was a point Boot had there.

"Last year I needed to know a lot of spells not normally taught in fourth year. Hermione did the research, and we practiced a long time to get them all right. I survived the tournament…" Harry had no intention of going into any depth here, "and learned a lot about learning from books. Professor Flitwick will be the sponsor, and you don't need to take part if you think it will be a waste of time." Harry tried to sound unconcerned, but felt the uncertainties raise their head. He had feared that there might not be any interest from students in their club when Hermione had first proposed the idea.

"I already placed my name on the list," another voice joined the conversation. "Even if only a fraction of the stories being told are true, the two of them will be wonderful teachers."

Harry gave Theo a friendly smile, his Slytherin friend was a good diplomat. A much better one than either Ron or Hermione.

"And if you still doubt all those rumours, Boot, then you might consider the attack from earlier this year. There were people on the ground casting stunners at Harry. He dodged them on his broom and managed to take them down. I certainly think that I can learn something from him."

Boot nodded and left without another comment as one of the other Ravenclaw boys called for him.

"I still think we shouldn't let all the Slytherins into the club," Ron muttered loud enough to be heard clearly by all in the vicinity.

As Harry knew it would, this comment – made more than once and now slightly amended not to exclude all Slytherins on principle – set off Hermione into another of her infamous rants about the rules. "Don't start again, Ron! I've already told you that an official school club can only be restricted by class level, not House! We could have said only third-years and up, or only those fifth-year and under. But not all but Slytherins!" Theo had a smirk on his face and Harry rolled his eyes at his friend, turned back to the table and continued with his breakfast.

"But we have four Quidditch teams! So clearly there is a way to have a club only for part of the Houses!" Ron wasn't going to give in this easily. He had made it quite clear that he would have preferred a secret club, so they could have excluded whomever they wanted.

Nudged on his shoulder, Harry scooted a little further down the bench to make room for Theo. "So what do you plan to do in your first lesson?" The lanky teenager wanted to know, selecting an apple from one of the plates filled with fruit, clearly intending to finish his breakfast at the Gryffindor table.

"I thought to start with the disarming charm. You know, the one Professor Snape used against Lockhart? I've come to appreciate it quite a bit. It might seem simple but we'll have a rather mixed group… probably."

The rest of breakfast was over quickly, filled with planning and bouncing ideas for the Defence club off Theo, while in the background Ron and Hermione were bickering about the purpose behind the rules governing the school. It almost felt like a normal day, if he managed to ignore all the speculation about the fire in the south of France.

oooOOooo

31th of October - Halloween

At breakfast Minerva sat down next to Severus, filling her cup with freshly brewed tea, looking on in fascination as Severus added a spoon of honey to his coffee. It was a little funny that he was the only one she knew that drank his coffee this way. There were, in fact, not many wizards and witches who drank coffee in Britain. Severus just was the exception to most unwritten rules.

When finally all the professors had made it to the table, Minerva cleared her throat to get her colleagues' attention. "I want to remind you all that Mr. Slytherin will not attend classes today, as his guardian has arranged for a day off for him. He will be back after dinner."

Most of the others just nodded – they had heard this in the last faculty meeting, after all – but Albus looked a little surprised. "How is it possible that I am only now hearing of this? We can't make such exceptions for single students, Minerva. Why wouldn't young Harry take part in the festivities? We shouldn't let Tom force the boy to be absent from the cheerful feast with his friends."

Not the least impressed by his slightly chiding tone, Minerva placed her fork down next to her plate. "As the excusing of students from lessons for family reasons is handled by the Deputy Headmaster or Headmistress, it falls solely under my jurisdiction. There was no need to involve you, Headmaster. Are there any more questions?" A few headshakes answered her, and she stood and left before the Headmaster could voice more objections. It was hard to see him lose so much of his brilliance.

She was still skeptical about Lord Slytherin, but the fact that he had arranged for Harry to have a quiet day in remembrance of his parents, when no one had ever done so before, granted him a slight growing of respect.

ooOoo

While the others went to their lessons, Harry waited, wrapped in his new warm winter cloak, in the entrance hall for his godfather.

Before he could start to worry, the tall form of his godfather walked through the high doors, his robes swaying around his legs, a heavy cloak hanging from his shoulders, a grin on his face.

"Harry, pup! I can't really wrap my head around the fact that he got you out of classes. What's his hidden agenda? What do you think?"

A little bemused, Harry realized that Sirius was trying to be cheerful and brighten the mood. Not that he needed cheering up. Until this year he had never really thought about visiting his parents' graves, or remembering them in any way on the day they had been murdered.

So he rolled his eyes and grinned, accepting a brief embrace from his godfather. "He probably wants to look like a thoughtful and kind guardian, I would guess. But as he has to act like one most of the time to achieve this, I think I can live with it."

Sirius laughed, startled. "Well, it is a likely agenda. But I guess he has at least several more. He is Slytherin, after all."

They fell into step and walked towards the entrance, Sirius slinging his arm over the shorter teen's shoulders. "I thought we first should go to Godric's Hollow, take a look around, then go to the graveyard. Maybe? Get something to eat… I haven't planned too much ahead."

Harry nodded, not saying a word, looking at his feet and the path they now followed over the school grounds.

"I guess one plan is as good as any other," Harry shrugged, "How is your search for an heir going?"

Moaning dramatically, Sirius placed his hand over his eyes, never faltering in his stride. "It's so much work, Harry! I thought it would be easy, but man, was I wrong! The chronicles are a mess, no order I can find. And then the Squibs often changed their names, or went abroad – not that I would blame them – making it so much harder to follow their trails. I thought about just paying for a test for all muggle-born wizards and witches I can find, but sadly the Goblins really don't like that idea." The two of them turned a little so they could see each other and grinned. "Well, I have a few people following the paper trail through all of Europe. We'll see if they can find anyone… And if I can't find anyone, I might just change the rules and name Nymphadora my heiress."

Harry had only met the young Auror a few times, but he already knew that she would not really fit in with the stiff rules surrounding the old families with seats on the Wizengamot. "If you try she might just hex you to the ceiling of a room and leave you there!" They had a good laugh over this mental image and reached the gate leading to the road down to Hogsmeade and the train station.

"We'll apparate from here, I think." Sirius decided. "No need to walk any further than the edge of the wards, after all. Ready?"

Taking a steadying breath, Harry nodded. "Ready," and took a good hold of his godfather's arm.

A moment of uncomfortable travelling later, they were standing behind a bush on fallen leaves that were starting to rot, quite out of sight.

"There's a small memorial in the middle of town, and the house…" Sirius swallowed, "the house you all lived in has been preserved as a reminder. I only ever saw the house that night before I stupidly went after that rat, and Remus told me about the memorial…"

Harry knew that Sirius wanted to let him make the decision what he wanted to see, what he was ready to see, but he was unsure himself. What could he cope with at this point in time? Could he visit the house where his parents had died? Where his darkest memories were? Those that he was forced to remember whenever a Dementor came too near?

Maybe it would be better not to go there yet.

"I want to see the memorial first, please."

Sirius only nodded and turned them around so they could walk down a quiet little street lined with cosy little cottages and houses. It was a peaceful place, one that looked as if it could be the stage for a children's book or film.

"You know, all I ever hear about mum and dad are little snippets. I know that I have Mum's eyes and that Dad was good at flying. But what were their favourite colours? Was there anything that Dad could eat so much of that he would feel sick? You know, the things that are silly, things I know about my best friends… no one ever tells me such things."

Obliging his godson, Sirius started to tell what he could remember, odd little events that had stuck with him. A really memorable Potions class with Professor Slughorn, after which all students had had vibrantly pink hair, some Quidditch matches and the fact that Lily had loved watching the sport, even if she always avoided James.

It didn't take long until they reached a small square in the middle of the settlement, the obelisk morphing into a statue of a man and a woman holding a small child.

For the longest time they both stood there under a notice-me-not spell Sirius had cast over them before they had started on their short walk through the town. It was odd for Harry to see a memorial for his parents and himself. He had seen more than one memorial for the dead of the two World Wars on school trips the Dursleys couldn't prevent him from attending. Seeing one dedicated to himself, making him out to be a great hero… he rather would have had his parents than all this fame. And now he had trouble to feeling hatred for the man who had killed them.

He sighed. "It is odd seeing them... us, like that. Do you know who made it?"

Sirius shook his head. "No, but I guess we can find out if you want to know."

"I think I would like that."

They started to walk again after that, no particular destination in mind. Randomly walking the streets. "I was wondering if you could spend the Christmas holidays with me," Sirius asked out of the blue, probably to break the silence and the mood that was steadily getting more morose.

"I would love to see you for a few days. Mar... he said I have to come home, because there are several social functions I have to go to." Sirius made a face, clearly unhappy that he had to attend many of those as well, and then his face brightened. "Oh, we'll get to see each other at some of those! That might make them more bearable! So you'll have… spend the holidays over at Griffin House?" They were stumbling from one awkward topic to the next. But Harry appreciated Sirius' effort not to insult his guardian. They had a few rougher discussions over the mirrors, but it seemed that maybe they could move on from this.

"Actually, he asked me what I wanted to do over the holidays so he could plan around my plans to visit friends. As he sees me writing to you, and visiting duties I have to fulfil, I guess spending time with you during a family holiday would be something he would demand anyway." Harry started to smile again.

"You talk to him often?" Sirius wanted to know, not entirely successful in feigning indifference.

"Every evening. But you already know that. You gave him the notes on the communication mirrors. It's nice to not have to write so many letters on top off all the essays we already have to write. I can't even rush through the history essays anymore, now that Remus reads them."

Sirius ruffled the mop of unruly black hair. "I remember that fifth year was a hard one. I know from experience. Don't allow yourself to fall behind, trying to catch up will not work out too well."

Without speaking the decision out loud, they started to make their way over to the church and the graveyard behind it.

A curious mixture of dread and anticipation filled Harry's stomach, he was unsure what to think.

ooOoo

Filled with grief, Sirius watched over Harry from a few steps behind and to the side. He had conjured two small flowers that Harry had laid down at the graves. Now the teenager stood there, hands locked before him, eyes staring at the headstones, small drops of water falling down from his face to the ground.

In a way this silent crying made Sirius mad. His own parents had always told him that boys and men didn't cry, that if you were strong, you would not show emotions. It was obvious that someone had drilled Harry in the same useless sentiment. It couldn't have been Slytherin, as he had only had custody of Harry since the summer, so it had to have been the Muggles.

Sirius never had liked Lily's sister, nor her husband. He had only met them a few times, that vile man actually only once, but he had known at first glance that if they'd had magic, they would have been great friends with his family. Bigoted idiots, the lot of them.

Well, it was early in the day, and Harry only needed to be back at school after dinner. So maybe they could visit one of the places Lily had loved to see in London. See a few happy places Harry could link to his parents. Creating a few happy memories, chasing away the gloom. With a little luck, they would find a cinema playing one of the films Lily had taken the Marauders to see.

It definitely would be a better ending to the day.

oooOOooo

AN: I'm sure that I could have filled the weeks I now jumped (at least a little) with lots of pieces about the Auror investigation and politics. But the story was intended to focus on Harry, Severus, and Marvolo and the way they change and adapt under the circumstances. So what do you think? Did the time jump work? I will include the investigations going on in later chapters again, but I wanted to get closer to Christmas for quite a few other important points in the story.

Time jumps still feel odd a little. That's probably one of the reasons the pace of the story (in days covered) is so slow as it is ^^'

Thanks to Jordre and Jake for helping to improve my spelling!
And for farawisa's help in keeping the facts straight.

Story recommendation: "The Beguile and Devotion of a Black Heir" by StarLight Massacre is a really good story. I especially like the political scenes, the discussions and all it entails. It is rated M and centres around Harry being adopted, leading to him changing quite a bit.

First published on the 21st of April 2017

Next chapter planned for 5th of May 2017