AN: There were problems with notification emails in the last weeks. So if you didn't get a notice two weeks ago, please check if you have read chapter 48 before. Because of the problem, I deleted chapter 48 before uploading it again on the same day before there had been any comments. Or so I believe. If one of your comments was accidentally deleted, I'm sorry for that :(

oooOOooo

Gryffindor vs. Slytherin

Saturday the 4th of November

Coming out of the bathroom – her hair still a bit damp – Sonja found Severus standing in his bedroom, already in his severe teaching robes. Either he was a morning person, or he simply had learned in over a decade of teaching to make the best of his early mornings. She smiled at the thought that she would learn which was true in due time.

Severus answered her smile with a small one of his own, stepping up to her for another sweet kiss. "Do you want me to dry your hair?" he asked, brushing some of the wet strands from her forehead.

Considering the offer, and remembering all the times she had heard witches complaining that their hair was untameable after using a drying charm on them, she was curious what her hair would do. "Yes, please, Severus."

With a flourish of his dark wand, her hair dried. It didn't feel any different from the way it did when she let it dry normally, but she would see how it behaved the rest of the day. Snatching up her robe from the bed and quickly slipping her arms into the sleeves, she was ready to go.

Checking herself over in a mirror on the door of the wardrobe, Sonja decided that she looked respectable enough to brave the Great Hall for breakfast.

"Before we go and face the dunderheads during breakfast before a Quidditch game, I wanted to give this to you," Severus said as Sonja turned to face him. He was holding a golden chain with a pendant looking like a small bouquet of summer flowers.

With a few steps she was by his side, and turned around so he could place the chain around her neck and close the clasps. "This is an emergency portkey that will take you to my house. Now that your association with me will be common knowledge in short time, and you are at a disadvantage, I organized this as a way for you to get to safety if someone should try to take out their irritation with me on you."

Softly Sonja smoothed out a worry line between Severus' brows. "I'll be careful. It's not as if I only now started to live as a person without magic among those that can use it." To change the topic of conversation over to a lighter one, she played with the pendant – it looked like it had been done with colourful enamel on a silver base – and asked, "How did you manage to get it? I always had the impression that the Ministry tends to be reluctant to let people carry around portkeys all the time."

Opening the door for her, and following her into the corridor, Severus gave her a short explanation. "Lord Slytherin was kind enough to help the process along. He informed me that he would be honoured to make your acquaintance. As far as I know, he plans to be here for the game."

The rest of the short way up to the Great Hall, the two lovers talked about the upcoming game between Severus' House and the Gryffindors. And the Squib asked what the visit of yesterday evening had been about. With an exasperated eye-roll Severus explained that the girl had gotten a letter from home telling about a missing cat which the girl loved dearly. A simple floo call had cleared the problem up. Between the moment the letter had been send and the time they had called the cat had come back. Agreeing with Severus that it was foolish to send such a letter and not contact the child the moment they knew the concern was unwarranted.

Sonja was looking forward to the first game of Quidditch she would get to see. And for breakfast in the Great Hall.

ooOoo

Minerva looked up from her discussion with Filius over the possible tactical shifts in the new teams they had this year. Some older players had graduated last year and now had to be replaced, shaking up the tactics the teams had developed over the last few years. For instance, Gryffindor had a new captain, and Minerva was curious how the girl had managed to integrate the new keeper into the team.

Looking over the students, as she did every few moments so she would spot brewing trouble as early as possible, to prevent trouble, she spotted Severus walk in with a woman at his side. The two were in a lively discussion, and the almost-smile and the life in the dark eyes of her colleague, were something she hadn't seen for far too long.

Not really paying attention to the animatedly speaking Charms Professor, Minerva cast her thoughts back many years on a quest to remember when Severus last had seemed so carefree. A wave of regret swept through her as she realized that it had been with Lily at his side in the library, studying, that she had last seen him so happy.

Finally Severus and the young woman had reached the table at the front of the Hall, all professors and quite a few students looking at them.

Ignoring the curious students, Severus helped the woman at his side to climb the steps – what an uncharacteristically chivalrous action on the Potions Master's part! – and turned to the side so he could easily turn to the table and his companion.

"Sonja, these are my colleagues. Filius Flitwick, Minerva McGonagall, Pomona Sprout…" he named them all in the order they were seated at the table this morning. They certainly had preferred places, but they changed now and again so they didn't always sit next to the same people.

"This is my fiancée, Sonja Jiggers."

The woman in her simple but flattering robes, smiled. "It's nice to meet you all. I'm sure we will get to know each other well soon."

Soon Minerva and the others got over their shock and started to ask questions. Like the others – at least she thought they wanted to know the same – Minerva wondered where Miss Jiggers had gone to school. So she simply asked. "Where have you gone to school, Miss Jiggers? I would remember if you had attended Hogwarts." She smiled and was happy to see an equally happy smile on the young woman's face, as she filled her own plate with different fruits, offering a plate of bacon to Severus.

"Not sure if you would have heard of the school, or the university I attended. As I'm a Squib, I never went to a magical school. Father now is really happy he encouraged me to study economics. The Apothecary is doing better than ever." The disarming smile on her face was somewhat of a conundrum for Minerva. Someone who only regularly interacted with one Squib – Argus Filch – who was bitter about his lack of magic, wouldn't expect a Squib to be happy among those able to wield magic.

"And now that Severus has come into my life, I actually get to take part in one of the few places where a person without magic can contribute. "I love discussing potions with you." At the end of her sentence, she had turned to Severus, smirking slightly in his direction.

Minerva had to blink to make sure that she was not imagining things. Severus was smiling back. True, it was a little lopsided and barely visible. But the young wizard the Transfiguration Professor only knew as a withdrawn teenager, and later a dour man, simply didn't smile for just anyone!

And then her eyes fell on Dumbledore sitting in his chair in the middle of the table. She knew from experience that one could hear every normal conversation taking place at the table from there. So he must have heard. So why were his features seemingly frozen in an expression of shock? Hadn't he known that Miss Jiggers was a Squib? Didn't he approve of a Squib marrying one of his employees?

The lively conversation around her, her need to get to know this woman capable of making Severus smile, quickly made her banish her wonder over the Headmaster's behaviour to the back of her mind. She would have time enough after the game to analyse what she might have seen.

ooOoo

Slipping into a warm woollen vest, Marvolo finished dressing for sitting in the stands for however long it would take for one of the Seekers to catch the snitch. Nagini was basking near the fireplace, coiled on the rug. She tended to be exceptionally lazy in the colder months of the year.

.:Where are you going?:. she hissed sleepily from her place.

.:I will visit Henry at school. Watch him playing Quidditch:. Marvolo answered, slipping into his robes before he pointed his wand at one of his favourite scarves, charming it to sport both Gryffindor and Slytherin Team Colours.

.:What's that, Quidditch? Is it fun?:. The snake's head rose from the heap of her body, turning so Marvolo was in her field of vision. She regarded him patiently. Or so he assumed. It wasn't easy to interpret a snake's moods by its limited – and that was a generous exaggeration – facial expressions and body language.

.:I like watching. And Henry likes to play. So, yes, it's fun:. Should he take a hat? The weather that far up north could be rather cold in November. It probably would be wise to take along a hat and mittens. He didn't like to be cold. Too many bad memories. He summoned both items from one corner of the big wardrobe.

.:But what is it?:. the snake persisted. Marvolo smirked, tucking both hat and mittens into one of the robe pockets. His familiar could be incredibly stubborn sometimes. And once she understood to her own satisfaction she tended to not care any longer. In a way she had a similar character to his own. He loved researching obscure magic, but once he understood it, he rarely did anything with it.

For a moment he contemplated how to explain the intricate nature of Quidditch to a snake. He never would manage to explain the game in its entirety in the time he had. So, maybe it would be enough to explain Henry's part of the game. .:It is a little like hunting birds. Henry flies through the sky trying to catch a little bird before the seeker of the other team gets it:.

Settling back into her comfortable coil Nagini hissed a reply, already no longer interested .:Birds always mock me from the branches of the trees. I don't like birds. But I wonder how they would taste:.

Laughing softly, Marvolo made his way out of the house, to apparate to the borders of Hogwarts' grounds. Time to be the charming father of the Gryffindor Seeker.

ooOoo

Harry and Ron walked down the path to the locker rooms together with the other team members. Ron was pale with nervousness, shaking, and Harry tried to calm him down as he spotted two figures coming up the path from the village.

"Ron, look over there!" Harry pointed to the two in an effort to distract his friend. Ron was a good keeper, but only when he wasn't thinking so much. Sadly, the prospect of playing in front of the whole school made him think, dreaming up nightmarish reactions of the other Gryffindors and his family to the failure he expected to be.

Ron turned, squinting to see better. "Who are they?"

Harry had a pretty good idea who they were. One was walking with a little spring in his step, looking around like someone enjoying himself immensely. The other was as tall as the one walking by his side. But in contrast to the first man's easy going demeanour, he was walking rigidly, his arms swinging stiffly by his sides. Like he had to control himself to keep calm.

As family attending Quidditch matches at the school was not a common occurrence, it was quite possible that the two men walking up towards them were Sirius and Marvolo. Considering the really good acting Marvolo had proved to be capable of, and the fact that Sirius barely tolerated the other man… Soon they were near enough to one another that it was obvious that Harry's guess had been spot on.

"Henry!" Marvolo called out, waving his arm to make sure Harry could spot them. He felt a smile curl his lips, they both had come, just as they had promised they would. It was really nice to have two adults interested in just him, and keeping their promises.

He waved back, the broom over his other shoulder wobbling with the motion.

A few moments later the team and the two adults met on the path. While the girls and the twins continued to the locker room, Harry walked slowly between the two wizards, Ron uncertainly hovering by his friend's side.

"You can go follow the others, Ron. I'll be there soon." It was nice that his red-haired friend was concerned for his safety, and at the same time annoying that he suspected that Harry wasn't safe here after all Harry had told him.

With a reluctant nod Ron hurried to catch up to the others.

Turning to Marvolo, Harry grinned. "So you decided to go with both colours!" Sirius looked startled for a moment and then got a surprised expression.

"You are wearing both Gryffindor and Slytherin colours! And I thought the conflict of interests would force you to remain neutral, Lord Slytherin," Sirius drawled, rearranging the Gryffindor coloured scarf and hat he was wearing.

Marvolo laughed. "Well, I hope for a re-enactment of the last World Cup."

For a moment Harry was bewildered before he grinned. "You know that's highly unlikely, don't you, sir? Our chasers are really good and have played together for years."

The older wizard laughed again. "Well, I said I hope for this outcome, but I know it is unlikely. So do your best and catch the snitch. I will cheer on the Slytherin chasers, so they will make so many points with goals that Slytherin still will win."

They were rapidly approaching the point where the way to the stands separated from the way to the changing rooms.

"Well, I will cheer for the whole team of Gryffindor," Sirius declared, giving a nasty look to Harry's guardian, who only chuckled. "And I think I will sit with your friends, Harry. Be careful, pup, and see that you win!"

Harry grinned and nodded. He would do that. Sirius gave him a hug, and Marvolo gave him a squeeze to the shoulder. More contact than they had ever shared, if they didn't count the hug Harry had enveloped the man in after the horrible disaster of the Inferi cave.

With a warm glow inside his chest, Harry walked the last part down to the changing rooms. Both Sirius and Marvolo were here to cheer him on. It felt good to finally have a family. With a little luck the rest of the world would soon accept that Marvolo wasn't Voldemort any longer. Or at least Harry hoped he wasn't, because it seemed like a good idea to give the man a second chance for real. He might still have his followers. But what was the difference between them and the people following Dumbledore's lead? Both groups were working to realize their political goals. They had really different ideas on what was the best for their world – and Harry was pretty sure there were things on both sides he could agree to, as well as things he couldn't – but it seemed that they now had the same methods to work towards their goals.

Banishing politics from his mind, Harry entered the locker room to prepare for his first game in over a year. He had so missed this!

ooOoo

Albus sat down between the other professors, deep in thought and listening to the polite conversation between Severus, his fiancée, and Tom. How was it possible that he had so miscalculated? Severus had told him that Tom approved of his choice of partner. But the girl was a Squib. How was it possible that Tom, who despised anyone weak, could accept someone incapable of using magic as the spouse of one of his followers? How could it happen that he had so badly miscalculated?

All the teachers, and what looked like most of the students, had come to watch this game. Their excitement was evident in the level of noise all around him. One of the students even had constructed a lion-head hat which roared now and then from the top of the girl's head. He was pretty sure he had seen her demonstrating the hat during breakfast in the Great Hall.

The ingenuity of some students always managed to make his days brighter. And the young dreamy Ravenclaw was one of the students who made his days brighter.

But his thought soon circled back to the conundrum of Tom willingly associating with Squibs. Encouraging his followers to interact with Squibs. Trying to integrate them into magical society when they would certainly feel inferior, surrounded by a power they were unable to access, ever. Petunia Evans once had asked to be allowed to go to Hogwarts together with her sister. A request Albus had seen more than once, and as he always had done, he had bestowed upon her the kindness of turning her away. It was a bitter life to live surrounded by magic, never to truly touch it.

Could it be possible that Tom had information – crucial information – Albus was missing?

ooOoo

"Hey, come over here!" Sirius shouted out to his godson's friends. Hermione spotted him first, and promptly changed direction. The Longbottom boy was following in her wake, a blonde girl with enormous blue eyes – looking surprised – and a big lion head on her head sat down beside them with a dreamy smile.

"Lord Black, how nice of you to come!" the bushy-haired witch greeted Sirius, sitting down on the bench and casting a warming charm. The day was clear, but chilly.

"No, please don't! I know it's customary to address a Lord or Lady with the title they carry, but you're Harry's friend. And I don't really put much stock in those stifling traditions. So, please, in such an informal setting, call me Sirius." He looked over the other teens, and smiled. "That goes for you too! Sit, sit. I have chocolate here, want a piece?"

They shared in the bars of fine Honeydukes chocolate, and chatted about different topics, from schoolwork to school gossip, until the game finally began.

"Hello, everyone, and welcome to the first game at Hogwarts since the last year, when our favourite sport had to give way for the Tri-Wizard Tournament! And here come the teams: Gryffindor, with new Captain Angelina Johnson – such a good-looking girl – and new Keeper Ron Weasley, brother of the two Human Bludgers Fred and George, as well as our youngest seeker in several hundred years, and the two other Chaser girls, Alicia Spinnet and Katie Bell. And Slytherin, with Captain Montague, his fellow Chasers Warrington and Pucey, Seeker Draco Malfoy, and the new Beaters Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle. Let's hope for a clean and exciting game!"

"Who's the guy commenting?" Sirius asked, amused by the overly enthusiastic boy, commenting the game with flowery words. If he kept this up, the game would be even more fun.

"And there are the players, the captains are shaking hands. And off they go! Madame Hooch has released the snitch! The game is on!"

Cheers went up all around the pitch, blocks of House Colours moving with the cheering.

Only listening with half an ear, Sirius followed Harry's circles around the pitch with his eyes. The three chasers of Gryffindor were an excellent team. It was obvious that they had played together for years. But the Bletchley boy was a seasoned keeper. Ron was a nice kid, and a good friend – as far as Sirius could tell – but he was lacking the practice and experience he would need to play at his best. For each goal the excellent chasers of Gryffindor scored, Ron failed to keep his hoops clean of the quaffle.

One of the Gryffindor boys sitting near to him groaned. "If that keeps up, the snitch will decide the game!"

And as far as Sirius could tell, that was exactly what was going to happen. Ron wasn't really confident on a broom as keeper, but the Slytherin chasers were no match for the three Gryffindor girls.

The whole block of students in Gryffindor robes and with red-gold coloured scarves, hats, and banners, jumped up as one of the twins almost managed to knock a Slytherin chaser off his broom with a bludger.

"That was a close call! Good work from the Weasley twins! They have more than a talent for pranks, folks!"

The voice of the commentator continued to fill the pitch, exclaiming with every interesting move the players made.

When it stood 40 to 40, after some near-misses of the grandiose trio against the Slytherin keeper, and some barely prevented goals by the Slytherin chasers, Lee Jordan's voice echoed loud and clear. "Was that the snitch?"

Sirius jumped to his feed, his eyes glued to the two small figures making daring manoeuvres at a breakneck speed. One was wearing the red and gold of Gryffindor, his black hair easily spotted, the other was wrapped in the silver and green of Slytherin, his blond hair a bright spot against the dreary sky.

From his tense grip on the rail before him, Sirius' knuckles were going white. He gasped as both seekers suddenly swerved to the right, putting the Malfoy kid nearer to the snitch, as he had been on the right of Harry, suddenly they both dove down towards the ground – making Sirius' old heart stutter for a moment – before suddenly changing direction again, shooting up into the sky. Harry had the faster broom and made a tighter turn, getting ahead of the other boy, now again in a better position.

Then Harry levelled his broom out, holding one hand formed into a fist high over his head. "He has the snitch! Potter… the Gryffindor Seeker has caught the snitch! The first game of the year finishes with 60 Slytherin to 190 Gryffindor! Gryffindor wins!"

All around the lone adult wizard, teenagers were dancing, cheering, and chanting. Gryffindor had won!

With shaking knees Sirius sat back down, ignoring the celebrating students around him. For the first time he really understood how James' mum had felt when she had found the two of them one summer making insane stunts on their brooms in the orchard behind the manor. She had banished the brooms to the house and they hadn't seen them again for the rest of those holidays at all. If those stunts had looked anything like the moves he had seen Harry make just now, he was actually quite surprised that good old Dorea had been so lenient. Here Harry had had Madame Hooch and the other professors to help if anything went wrong. But James and himself hadn't even told anyone where they had gone.

Maybe he should just adopt someone already over the age of twenty to have an heir, and forego the whole terrifying experience of being an actual parent. He wasn't really that interested in settling down, after all, and he wanted to live, not die of shock because his kid was reckless.

ooOoo

"I still think we should have gone with the idea of targeting the Weasel's weakness. You all have seen what a weak keeper he is. If we played on his insecurities…"

Draco rolled his eyes. Montague had belaboured the point many times by now.

"Yeah," Bletchley said, muffled by the towel he used to dry his hair – Draco had seen once what his hair did when dried with a charm, it was a wise decision to take the longer road – looking up. " The song you came up with was pretty good. Had a tune to it!"

Draco shook his head. Was it really so hard to understand? "You really want to see what the … what Lord Slytherin might do if we tried something like this against a friend of his son? I would really prefer to never know what he might do. No, we have to work on our chaser formations. And you two need to have a better overview where a bludger would do the most good. Just randomly smacking it at the other team isn't going to work."

Before one of his… friends… could come up with a reaction, Montague interrupted Draco's lecture. "Who made you captain, Malfoy?"

There wasn't much the blond could say to that, so he shrugged. "Just some thoughts," he replied before he went into the shower. He wanted to warm up under the hot water before they made their way back to the castle. Maybe it would have worked, sabotaging the red-head with the song he had written one evening as a little fun he used to avoid working on his history essay, but he was pretty sure it wasn't worth the risk.

And being polite with Slytherin's friends seemed to work. Never before had the other seeker come over to shake his hand after a match with so genuine a smile. Winning would have been better, but getting thanked for a good game was worth something, too.

ooOoo

"Well done, son!" Harry turned to the man who had spoken, grinning like mad. It had been wonderful to play a real game of Quidditch again. And they had won! Sure, Ron still needed a lot more confidence, but Angelina and the other girls were almost unstoppable.

"Thank you, sir!" He probably looked a little like a loon, with his face-splitting grin, windswept hair, sweaty Quidditch uniform, and a broom over his shoulder. The others from the team were drifting over to the locker rooms to shower and change, the students drifting up towards the castle, as it was getting darker, with heavy clouds moving up from the south.

"I wish I could stay and celebrate with you. But I guess it will be a Gryffindor-only party?" That got a few people in the vicinity laughing, among them Professor Flitwick and Sirius. "Have fun at your party. You have earned it."

Not really knowing why he said it – and later berating himself while he stood under the heavenly warm water – Harry cheekily tugged at the scarf divided down its middle between the two teams' colours. "But whatever the outcome of the game would have been, you were guaranteed a reason to celebrate."

With a small smirk, the slightly taller man nodded his head. "That is true, Henry." Then he switched to Parseltongue .:I have an appointment with a mind healer. I have heard it helps one to cope with irrational fears and big changes:.

Several people shuddered, or got paler once the hissing started. It was funny how snakes never really made much noise, but the tones of Parseltongue were so easily heard by those not able to understand them.

.:You will call tonight?:. Harry hissed his question back, getting a nod in answer, and then quickly departed to change. It was getting cold standing out here in the light drizzle now falling from the sky. A hot shower sounded like exactly the thing he needed right now.

oooOOooo

He was really nervous. How ridiculous was that? And if he hadn't told his son that he was going to meet with Healer Goyle, he would have moved the appointment. Again. Because this was the third attempt to actually start to work with the woman to get his… feelings sorted out.

He so wished he could just skip this. It felt like weakness, what he was doing. Having feelings at all, caring for others… but avoiding those had gotten him into the trouble he had been in, the trouble he hadn't really left behind – yet – so doing it again and hoping for a different result would be foolish.

Once he had made his way to her office, he got the new loophole-free secrecy contract out of his robes, and sat down while the woman read the rather large stack of parchment sheets.

Looking around, Marvolo realized that he was rather skittish, and that it was very likely that there would come topics on the table he rather would not speak about.

With a sigh he plucked a tissue paper from a box offering them – probably to be used by patients crying – and waved his wand at it, transfiguring it into a box. A box made out of fine-grained dark wood, a lid attached with brass hinges, and a mechanism to open the box that could be called complicated. Another tissue was transformed into a velvet lining. All these things finished, Marvolo placed the lining into the box, reverently placed his wand on top, and then closed the mechanism. Finally he placed the box outside his easy reach, but still in his line of sight.

"What are you doing, Lord Slytherin?" the Healer asked, placing the quill she had used to sign the contract down on top of the stack.

"Making sure that my temper will not cause your early demise just because I slip in control. This way it will take some time to regain my easiest way of killing you. Hopefully enough to regain my senses and calm down." Marvolo answered, working hard to keep a moderately calm exterior. It was harder than it had any right to be.

"I thank you for your consideration and foresight," was the Squib's calm and collected reaction, while she sat back, a notebook and pencil in hand, her blouse and skirt surrounding her in an aura of professionalism. She was calmer than most people would be in the face of a man so casually mentioning his inclination to kill when upset.

But maybe she had known exactly what she was getting into when she agreed to take him on as a patient. Her nephew was one of his Death Eaters, and she had made a study of the human mind, it was a logical conclusion that she would be prepared.

"You said that you want my help to deal with feelings you do not understand, and find better ways to react to urges new to you?" Her pen was poised for taking notes, and Marvolo was staring at it with dread. Giving trust and control to someone other than himself was hard. Maybe even impossible… maybe he should start with something small.

"That is what I said," Marvolo agreed reluctantly. He had said as much, but now he wasn't so sure anymore. "But I think… we might need to start with something… different." When he had been younger Marvolo had read many works on the human mind and what one might use to manipulate it. And while researching ways to help Henry deal with the trauma he had experienced, he had read up on the newest developments in the field. He knew what the theory said what was needed to help with... problems like his. He was rather reluctant to acknowledge that he had a problem. But the fact was that he was better able to plan, had better control over his magic, and could do more before feeling tired. All hints he had found after his return pointed in the direction of that one conclusion.

How averse to admitting it he might be notwithstanding.

"Currently I experience urges to torture people that frustrate me. I have used duelling practice and conjured objects I let explode to calm the need for destruction. Do you have other suggestions?" He balled his hands into fists, breathing deliberately to remain calm, intent on remaining in control of not only the situation, but himself as well.

"Redirecting violent urges into destroying inanimate objects is a good solution. You might consider other physical activities to get the energy out of your system. Weeding a garden, felling a tree, running… I suggest trying different methods to find those that work the best for you, Lord Slytherin."

Marvolo nodded, called the box with his wand to his hand, opened the mechanism, and took his wand back. "Thank you, Madame Goyle. I will contact you again for the next appointment."

He walked out of the office rather quickly, leaving the box behind. That wasn't what he had wished to accomplish, but in a way it was a start. Everything he had read about it indicated that therapy wasn't an easy process, and he was doubtful if it was possible for him to give the trust needed to receive help.

He apparated home, intending to get some more planning done. Probably pushed by his vows to be working for the good of their community and his loyal vassals. But whatever the reason for his motivation and energy, he would take full advantage of it.

oooOOooo

After dinner, the victory party in the Gryffindor common room really kicked off.

The twins had managed to get pastries, butterbeer, pumpkin juice, and the funnier of their joke products in great quantities, giving their party-catering a decent base. All of the House had added some of their own sweets to the buffet, so now there was quite a feast to be had. Decorations from past festivities – stashed somewhere around the tower until they were needed again – hung from every possible place on the walls and furniture, giving the right atmosphere.

In several corners, some of the older students were cuddling, snogging, and maybe more, mostly ignored by those around them.

Harry sat among his team mates and friends, smiling and just feeling light for once. In a way, this year had been harder than those before so far, but at the same time he had had more adult support than ever before as well.

And now while singing songs, making jokes, and eating some of his favourite foods, there was a small flicker of hope growing that the other Gryffindors might accept that a Parselmouth could be a lion like them, that the family name of Slytherin didn't automatically made him into an untrustworthy, backstabbing dark wizard. The camaraderie and generally relaxed atmosphere indicated that it just might be possible.

Sadly, Harry didn't notice the blazing glare sent his way from the other side of the room, where a sulking girl sat, making her friends happy that she seemingly was on her way to feeling better, finally.

oooOOooo

Really late that Saturday evening, Severus found himself sitting in the Dark Lord's study, a small tumbler of good scotch whiskey in hand. The Potions Master was curious what this meeting was about, and quite happy to not be at the school at the moment. His Slytherins would be bemoaning their loss at Quidditch against Gryffindor, so he was glad for the distraction.

The man sitting behind the desk had a pensive expression on his face, his red eyes unfocused. Suddenly he started to speak, still staring off into the distance. "What is your view on de-aging potions, Severus?"

One dark brow rose slightly in interest. That was a most controversial topic. Disregarding the ideas springing up in his mind of why his Lord had chosen this particular topic, Severus took a sip from his drink before starting on somewhat of a rant. "As most do at some point, I studied what is known about the theory behind de-aging, while I worked for my Mastery. I, personally, feel it is an unattainable goal." He made a small waving gesture with his empty hand. "The costs to counterbalance the gain are simply too high. If we assume that de-aging is successfully attained when the witch or wizard regresses in body and mind back to a younger, former version of themselves, ageing after that like any normal human would, then some accidents in potions development have caused true de-aging. But," he couldn't help the sneer crossing his face, and noted the amused glint in his Lord's eyes over his passionate speech, "the side effects of these successful instances have been severe indeed."

A questioning look and a wave of the slim hand, prompted the Potions Master to continue. "Blindness, deafness, infertility, loss of all memories, loss of magic… I could go on for a while. Some of those that did survive the initial change killed themselves after a few years because of depression-like states that couldn't be treated with potions. They never were happy. About anything. I feel that the gained additional years of life are balanced out by a cost equalling that gain." For a moment Severus gazed into his tumbler, swirling the amber-coloured liquid. "I quickly came to the conclusion that the price was too high, and directed my interests elsewhere."

"So you claim that all potions have a cost counterbalancing the gain we get from their use?" The Dark Lord sounded a little sceptical, but clearly was willing to listen to Severus' explanation.

So, Severus nodded. "I do, my Lord. For most potions, it is the time needed to brew them. The more powerful potions take months to brew. Another part of the costs are the ingredients. Some are rare, or dangerous to work with, or even to get access to. One error in the process can be deadly, or at least cost all that already went into it, making high levels of skill necessary for success. In a way, brewing a potion resembles the workings of a ritual, channelling the magic to combine the aspects of the ingredients to achieve the desired goal."

A contemplative silence descended onto the room. Severus sipped his drink, glancing in the direction of the Dark Lord, who was obviously deep in thought.

"How would you go about passing a wizard off as his own son if you had to?" The question was stated quite innocently, but Severus had to employ his Occlumency to keep himself from snorting. However it was phrased, there was an order hidden in there.

He quickly went over what might work, before he assembled something that maybe could be called a plan. "I would probably go with a shrinking solution to shrink the person to a size to match the age aimed for, and later use the counter-potion in carefully measured and calculated doses to make it seem as if the person does age and grow."

The Dark Lord leaned forward in his seat, steepling his fingers under his chin, his elbows resting on the leather surface of the desk. He frowned. "I remember quite distinctly, Professor Slughorn testing the classes' potions on a few potted plants. They simply shrank in size but remained adult plants, just in miniature."

Severus nodded. "It is the only remaining legal use of the potion. It affects plants and animals, as well as humans, quite differently. While it shrinks plants and let's them keep their mature appearance, it makes animals – mammals, fish, amphibians, and so on – appear younger. Once it was used to keep pets in their cute infant stages until they died of old age." Even if he found little kittens and puppies cute, he never would say it out loud. The appearance aimed to trigger caring instincts in adults of their species worked on him as well. There was no shame in that. "Now it is only used to create Bonsai and other potted plant miniatures."

Clearly this was some potions trivia the Dark Lord never had bothered to learn. And who would blame him? It truly was not something that factored into conquering the country. Or so Severus had thought.

"That sounds like a workable idea. Please write up a plan of how long preparations would take, ingredients needed, and everything else, if you would have to apply this to two men aged in their mid-thirties, changing them to no younger than twelve. I also want you to research rituals that can be used to adopt an adult, or change their appearance to match other parents than the one they really had…" It was clear that his Lord was unhappy that he didn't know a more precise way to describe what he wanted.

Bowing his head, accepting his new mission, Severus clarified the order to make sure he had gathered the important points correctly. "I will make a plan of dosage and preparation for the shrinking solution and its antidote. And I will research rituals and potions to change an adult's parentage, I assume for someone in their thirties?"

"That is correct. You might use the library here in the house. If you require a text you can't find here, in your own collection, or in those of the other Death Eaters, inform me and I will endeavour to acquire it."

It was early in the morning of Sunday before Severus got back to the school. He was called to the Headmaster's office by the man's Patronus to report before he had managed to get to his quarters. Carefully checking his Occlumency shields and recalling what he would tell the Headmaster about the prolonged meeting with the Dark Lord, Severus prepared on the way.

The Dark Lord's wish to know every bit that Severus could tell him about what Mr. Slytherin was doing at school, reports on other children and what the Order was doing, as well as more tutoring-session plans for over the Christmas holiday, and the excuse of potions to identify burned human remains, would be enough to explain the long meeting.

Hopefully.

With a sigh the Potions Master walked the deserted hallways, watched by a few sleepy portraits, up to the Headmaster's office, opposite to the direction he wished to take.

oooOOooo

In the dark common room of Gryffindor Tower, a girl crept down the stairs from the girls' dorm, wand lit with a lumos, casting dancing shadows over the remains of the party that had finally ended almost an hour ago. It had been rather easy to stay awake behind the curtains of her bed with the anticipation and anger coursing through her.

How could they all celebrate that traitor for catching the snitch? It was all too clear that he had no pride in Gryffindor at all. Shaking hands with those slimy snakes, as if they were worth more than the mud the pitch had turned to under all the student's feet.

She carefully stepped over an upturned old chair, reaching the bottom of the stairs up to the boys' dorms. She knew that his rooms were at the very top. Even higher up than the rooms used by the Head Boy, if he was a Gryffindor. What a ridiculous thing. As if he was better than everyone else.

She snorted and started to ascend the stairs. She had practiced the spell she wanted to use on Friday evening, while all the others had been down in the Great Hall, listening to the poisoned tongue of the boy who had ripped her love from her.

Cormac had written a letter that his father had not managed to deflect the unfair, unfounded accusations. But at least her one and only love wouldn't have to go to Azkaban. But he wouldn't return to Hogwarts either. He had told her that he would go to one of the smaller schools over on the continent. Her love had tried to let it sound as if it had been his decision, but... she just knew that the slander had made the other school decline his request to attend lessons there.

But he would be really proud of her once he heard what she was about to do.

Finally she had reached a place where there was a kind of prickly feeling on her skin, just before she would come in actual contact with the wards. She would place her spell here, and then watch in the morning what the effect would be. There was no way that the snooty prat would look and notice before he tripped the spell. He would get his punishment for all that he had done to destroy her life.

oooOOooo

It was early in the morning, and Harry couldn't sleep anymore. It was too early for his friends to be awake, and he just couldn't stay in bed. He felt restless. So he got out of his bed and into his new warm clothing. It felt wonderful wearing trousers and a shirt that actually fit, shoes not held together with tape and wishing, a jumper without holes. It felt so good to finally have an adult caring for the most basic of things. Sometimes he just caressed the softness of his clothes, remembering how the Dursleys always had claimed that he was a burden and they were providing even more than they should for him.

With an abrupt motion Harry turned to take his warm cloak from its peg by the door and opened it. He would take a stroll over the grounds – maybe to the greenhouses or the lake – to calm down a little before he went to eat something for breakfast. After that he might be in the right frame of mind to start on his homework. Or plan the next Defence Club meeting. It had been cool how many had come. Harry wanted to help them all, and didn't want to disappoint Hermione.

Slowly walking down the steps around the tower, Harry checked that he had his mittens and hat. It would be rather cold outside, after all, it still was dark, not a hint of dawn to see. Looking up – satisfied that he had everything to stay warm while taking a walk – Harry caught a peek of the door to the currently empty-standing Headboy's room, when his foot caught on something, the boy lost his footing and fell forwards.

Caught off guard, falling too fast to get out his wand to cast some charm, some spell, Harry tried to break his fall with his arms outstretched before him. His hands collided with the stairs, pain travelling up his arms, the sickening crunch of breaking bones vibrating through his body. Harry curled into a ball, cursing in his mind, before his tumbling down the circular stairs caused his head to ring and spin so badly that he no longer could think straight.

ooOoo

Fred lay awake in his bed, studying the canopy of it, puzzling over a problem with their portable swamp plan. The last test they had made was just a little too watery, where the one before that had been a little too close to porridge. The consistency they were aiming for and the plants that should grow at the edges were not quite right just yet.

While he thought about a way to counter the poisonous effect of the one ingredient that ensured the perfect consistence, he heard a muffled cry followed by something heavy falling down the stairs outside their dorm. He knew that sound because George and he had thrown their trunks and those of their dorm mates down the very same stairs some years earlier. But at this time of day, paired with the cry, it was highly unlikely to have been someone having fun.

He bolted out of his bed – barely managing to not get tangled into his deep red bed curtains – and came face-to-face with his frantic but still sleepy-looking brother. They didn't need to say a word, and stormed out of the room without slipping on their bathrobes or slippers, only making sure that they had their wands with them.

It didn't take them long to get to the common room, finding a crumbled form unmoving on the floor at the foot of the stairs. Fred rushed forward, wondering who of the other Gryffindor boys had managed to get up so early and then managed to fall down the stairs. Before he had even checked who it was, he heard his brother hurry up the stairs. They needed Madame Pomfrey, and only a prefect could use the floo to inform a teacher and the medi-witch.

With a steady hand – experimenting for the development of their products had hardened him somewhat against accidents – the twin moved the fabric of a high quality cloak away from the head and face of the boy. He gasped and quickly checked for a heartbeat when he saw it was Harry. Why would their Seeker lose his footing? He was one of the least clumsy people he knew. Not daring to move the younger boy, Fred just sat there helplessly, listening to thumping feet on the stairs. Help was coming.

ooOoo

Minerva watched with a really bad feeling about this accident while Poppy moved the body of Harry Potter – she might have to call him Slytherin in class, but he would always be the son of James and Lily for her – out of the Gryffindor Common room. Something felt fishy about the whole thing. But now was not the time to chase after a mouse like that.

Getting out her wand, Minerva conjured her patronus. "Severus, Mr. Slytherin fell down the stairs and is unconscious. Poppy is taking him to the hospital wing. I think you are the better choice to inform his guardian." Her silvery cat patronus vanished through the floor on the most direct way to the Potions Master and resident spy.

Despite his prickly exterior, Minerva had come to appreciate the dry wit and sarcasm of her younger colleague. As a spy in the ranks of the Death Eaters, it was his job to keep his cover by providing useful information. If she was able to help keep him safe with something that would have to be told anyway, she would do so without thinking twice.

After that was finished, the Head of House Gryffindor turned with a flaring tartan night robe to face the gathered students. Addressing the prefects, she gave orders to the whole House. "Make sure that no one goes up to where Mr. Slytherin likely faltered on the steps. Prepare for Aurors to come by and take your statements. I will arrange for breakfast to be delivered here, as many of you will not be able to get dressed. Please stay calm, you will be kept informed about Mr. Slytherin's wellbeing." With the last sentence she looked over at the Weasleys, huddled together on one of the saggy couches – she probably should replace some of the ones worse off – framing a nervous looking Miss Weasley and a teary-eyed Miss Granger. Now she would first go to her rooms to dress, before venturing to the infirmary. The poor boy got no rest.

oooOOooo

It had been a sleepless night. And because he still wasn't calm enough to sleep, he had called the three Lestrange men to his study to discuss his idea of how to give the two brothers a new chance at a life.

At the moment they were eating an early breakfast – Marvolo had selected a bowl of porridge with cream, honey, and sweet cherries – while Rabastan and Rodolphus contemplated the reasons for and against pretending to be their own sons. It was obvious that they were reluctant to commit to this plan.

"You know that this is only a tentative plan at this point, don't you?" Marvolo asked, filling his cup with fresh tea, adding three spoons of sugar before stirring. Their careful glances were stating clearly that they were not so sure about that. "Passing you off as your own sons would work as a way to keep you in your own family. But changing your identity is something we can't avoid, if you don't want to go into permanent hiding as Augustus has elected to do." He had been surprised when Augustus had asked if he could stay hidden and devote his whole time to research. But if he considered the man's interests and goals, it wasn't as odd a choice as it first had seemed to be. And as he was sure to have enough material to occupy several wizards with research for decades, he had agreed.

Rabastan nodded. "We are aware, my Lord. But I think I speak for both my brother and myself, when I say that we are reluctant to undergo puberty and school a second time."

Marvolo nodded, conceding the point. The life of a teenager wasn't the easiest one – even if his own memories were clouded quite a bit, the gist of it was clear enough – and waiting several years before becoming an adult again, adding on top of that the stigma of being the son of a Death Eater… he could understand why they were reluctant to go that way.

"Maybe we could make you into sons of mine, from a different woman?" Xerxes suddenly suggested, causing slow blinking, incredulous looks from his sons. "What? You could be close to your current age, would be part of the family… and as bastards, not eligible for the position as heir. It could work." Marvolo's old friend shrugged and then grinned at the dumbfounded look on his son's faces.

Before Marvolo had time to contemplate that idea and the possible implications, a silver-shimmering doe came through the wall, stopping prancing before the man sitting at the head of the table. "My Lord, your heir is in the infirmary. He fell down the stairs from his room to the common room. He'll live. I'm awaiting you at the gates."

Without glancing back at the others, Marvolo was out of his chair and the house, and into the small garden behind it, where he apparated to the gates of the old Castle.

His Potions Master was waiting for him, giving a shallow bow from his neck, turning to walk up the path to the school at a brisk pace.

Without prompting, Severus started on his report. "The Weasley twins heard something heavy fall down the stairs. One of them claims to have heard a cry, or yell. As far as I know, your son has several broken bones, but Madame Pomfrey should be able to tell you more once we reach the infirmary."

Marvolo opted not to answer. He was planning furiously. It was highly unlikely that his son had had an accident. So someone must have done something to make him fall. Down the stairs. So, another murder attempt. The third in as many months. The poisoning resulting in dehydration could have been deadly with another dosage.
He would need to call Malcolm to keep watch over what the medi-witch did. And there needed to be an investigation. Maybe he should try to convince Henry to ask for a re-sorting. If he became a Slytherin, Marvolo would be able to shield him much better. He would be saver in Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw as well.

Two minds were whirling as the two dark men walked all the way to the infirmary in silence.

oooOOooo

AN: Thank you all for your continued support! I love it when one of your comments spark a new idea in my head, make my muse hunt another plot-bunny :D

The story as catched up on AO3, so if you rely on the sides conveniences for reading, you can follow the story there as well.

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

First published on the 19th of May 2017

Next chapter planned for 2nd of June 2017