AN: As I have to move the normal date for the next chapter, here's the date so all of you hopefully will see it:

Next chapter planned for 25th of October

oooOOooo

Attraction

Thursday, 7th of December

After lessons had been over for the day, Harry had fetched his drawing supplies from his room down in the dungeons and walked out onto the grounds. It had taken some time, but finally he had found a spot from which he had a really nice view of Hogwarts and the lake. Now he was drawing a rough sketch as a base to create a painting of the castle. Harry had thought long and hard on what to get his guardian for Christmas and the man's birthday. He had decided to find some interesting book for Christmas – he was debating if The Art of War by Sun Tzu, or The Prince by Machiavelli would be the more fitting – as he didn't really know if Marvolo did celebrate that holiday. For the man's birthday, the much more important occasion to give a gift in Harry's eyes, he wanted to give him a painting of Hogwarts he had made himself. His impression from the few times Dudley had given something to his parents had been that parents always were happy to get something their children had made with their own hands. As he really had limited experience, and the painting of a big pile of snakes had been a success, he had decided to repeat that on a larger scale.

Erasing one of the towers for a third time – it had looked somewhat wrong each time he had drawn it – Harry looked up to see someone walking towards him, holding a wand lighted with a lumos in front of them. Concentration shifting back to a fourth attempt to get that pesky tower to look right, Harry ignored the figure getting closer and closer, for the moment. Since his move to the Slytherin dungeons, he had felt a lot safer than before.

He had just started to erase his fourth attempt as well, when the person stopped next to him, slightly panting. "Harry, here you are! It wasn't easy finding you!" Hermione said, out of breath, tucking her hat down over her bushy hair, fumbling because her hands were safely encased in knitted mittens.

"Now that you've found me, what can I do for you, Hermione?" Harry asked, squinting up at the castle. Maybe he had the perspective wrong?

Harry heard a huff from his side but continued to study the castle in front of him. There had to be a way to draw that tower and make it look good.

"I wanted to see if you would be willing to study with me. I'm really interested in comparing your way of writing the potions instructions to those that are in our books. I'm having trouble to understand what's in them that helps you to brew better. I never had trouble with the way our books present the instructions." She sounded irritated, probably because Harry seemed as if he wasn't paying her any attention.

"I can lend you some of my notes, so you can compare and come up with some questions you want me to answer. At the moment, I have to finish this sketch. There isn't much time until the holidays, after all, and I need to get this finished in time." Maybe getting more of the area surrounding the difficult tower finished would help with getting it to look right?

"I suppose that could work." Now his friend sounded reluctant. "But it really would be easier to get down to the helpful differences if you were there from the start, Harry."

A little annoyed, Harry turned to face Hermione. "I guess it could be quicker, but you can get to the bottom of this mystery after the holidays, or even after exams. You said so yourself, you have no trouble with the way the receipts are written in the textbook. But I have to have this finished before we leave the school for the holidays, so this here is of higher priority." He shrugged seeing the war behind Hermione's brown eyes. He knew well enough that there wasn't anything much more important than studying and knowledge to Hermione, but her tendency to create plans and schedules to organize everything had given her a sense for prioritising things based on the date something needed to be finished.

"I guess you're right. May I borrow your notes?" She didn't sound really happy with this solution, but Harry was happy that she had accepted his reasoning.

"I'll bring them up with me to dinner, if that works for you?" Harry asked, turning his attention for a moment in her direction.

She shrugged, rubbing her hands together. "I guess that'll work. You coming back with me? It's really cold out here!" Harry looked at his sketch and then at the castle. There was still that tower to draw, and a few bigger, important parts to mark, before he was truly finished with his work for today. But it was really cold and his feet were starting to feel the cold, too. His right hand, without gloves so he could draw at all, was cold as ice as well. But he wanted to finish this.

"I guess I'll finish up here, with the Defence Club meeting tomorrow, there will be no time to finish up tomorrow, and the weekend is filled with study time and homework." Here Harry gave his studious friend a pointed look, maybe making her blush. But as the cold had flushed her face a bright red already, it was hard to tell.

"See you at dinner then," Hermione said, turned on her heel, and walked up the path she had come down, meeting with two tall figures making their way over to Harry.

It seemed he wouldn't get as much quiet as he had hoped for.

Fred and George stopped right next to Harry, looking over his shoulder to see what he was doing. "Not bad!" was the comment from the twin on the right, while the one on the left nodded with a thoughtful look on his face. "Yeah, it's clear what you have drawn there. Percy never managed to get his pictures of Penelope looking remotely like a human. That's probably why he had them stashed away in the bottom drawer of his desk at home."

Harry laughed at that picture. Poor Percy, chasing his two brothers, trying to get back his pictures, mortified that Penelope would see them and be affronted. It wasn't nice of the twins to tease their brother with his lack of practice or talent – or both – but it was hard to be mad at them for long. And it was clear they never had done something like posting the pictures on the board in the common room, if they had, this wouldn't be the first time Harry had heard about it.

"What do you two want?" Harry asked, starting another attempt to get that tower right.

"We have here," they got out two satchels from beneath their cloaks, "assorted products from our production. We have tested them, and worked out the last kinks. You, as our silent investor and Gryffindor inside of Slytherin, are the best to get them to the snakes so we can get a good picture of what they like and would buy. Would you do that, Harry?"

Harry gave them a raised eyebrow, they needed to be more specific before he would agree to anything. He still could remember vividly the picture of Dudley choking on his own tongue. No, agreeing to something the twins had thought out but were reluctant to explain was maybe as dumb as agreeing to a trade with a Slytherin without sorting out the terms beforehand.

"We want you to offer those products to the Slytherins for the prices marked on the outside of the packaging, and get them to answer the questions we have on the parchments in there somewhere. Give us the money and the filled in questionnaires afterwards, and we'll be happy." They gave him matching grins and wiggled their eyebrows, holding out the satchels to him.

So this was something like marketing research the twins were doing here. They had said as much at the beginning of term, that they planned to use this last year at Hogwarts to get a clear picture of what the normal Hogwarts student wanted from their joke products. It was only logical that the Slytherins were harder to approach than the other three Houses for two Gryffindors. Harry guessed it wasn't a horribly terrible idea to offer the other Slytherins the opportunity to look at the merchandise. "If you accept accountability for all eventual trouble – bad reactions to some ingredients or the like – then I'm in. Help carry the stuff back to the castle?" Harry stuffed the pencil he had been using in one of his pockets, got out the glove for his right hand to slip it on, and closed his sketchbook, before he turned back towards the castle.

On the way back he asked the twins a lot of questions about their products and what they were planning to work on next. They had a lot of great ideas for future products and were already planning on how best to structure their shop, as well as how to disguise their products for owl order into Hogwarts. They expected to be on the banned items list rather quickly, much to Harry's delight.

ooOoo

When Harry sat foot into the common room a little later, carrying two satchels and his drawing supplies, the room was packed with students. The atmosphere was quiet and studious, a few smaller groups playing games at the edges of the room, one group laughing about a story one of them was telling. All in all it looked like a typical late afternoon just before dinner would be served.

A glance around the room quickly showed Harry where he could find his classmates. The others were sitting near one of the fireplaces close to the entrances to the dorm corridors. Without missing a beat Harry walked over to them, carefully setting his newly acquired satchels on the ground. "How is homework going?" Harry asked innocently, earning himself some very pointed glares.

Goyle only grunted, carefully copying an essay from a messy draft onto a new scroll, while Theo pointedly closed his Defence book. "I know you wanted to take a walk outside, and looking at how red your face is you actually did do that, but that's no reason to mock us. You will have to write that essay yourself."

Harry sighed in defeat, there was no mistake, he would have to write that incredibly dull essay for Defence. But for the moment he had something to distract himself and everyone else, so he got out the satchels.

"I have managed to get us all a discount for some of the prank products the Weasley twins have invented. Anyone interested in some Skiving Snackboxes to get out of a few lessons with our current excuse for a Defence Professor?" Harry felt that was a clever way to get the conversation over to where he wanted it to go. Obvious – as looks from Theo and Draco confirmed – but welcome, so the Slytherins rolled their eyes at him but were amused.

"A discount you say?" Draco asked, opening one of the satchels and spreading out the boxes from within to look at them and the descriptions on the outside of the packages. They all were eye-wateringly bright. The others at the table quickly removed their homework from the table, grabbing for a box or two, thankful for the distraction, and curious to boot.

"Yes. They want to know the average Slytherin student's opinion on their products. So, for you to have an opinion on their products you need to be able to test them before answering any questions. They asked me to help with that." Harry snatched up a thick roll of parchment tied of with a red ribbon. As he had suspected he discovered upon opening the scroll that these were the sheets with questions.

"I wonder," Daphne started, turning a box of Extendable-Ears over in her hands, "where they get the money from to fund all their research. They clearly have made an investment here. And say what you will, the salary of a Ministry Employee isn't big enough to support that big a family and make risky investments." The girl wasn't looking at Harry directly, but he just knew she was asking him.

A look around the table showed that Draco and Theo, as well as Millicent and Pansy, agreed with Daphne's assessment. So they probably had had some form of education on things like the financial management of an estate and all that entailed.

"I know they have an investor who wants to remain anonymous. Their mother doesn't approve – it's just no proper job in her eyes – so I understand their caution," Harry offered as the only explanation he was going to give, not stating clearly that he had been the one to invest in their business, but admitting to it nonetheless. It was funny how Slytherin talk worked sometimes. Or maybe it should be named politician talk instead. In Harry's – admittedly limited – experience, all politicians talked that way, regardless from which House they were.

"What does this do?" Crabbe asked holding up a tube of canary cream decorated with bright yellow feathers moving over the surface.

"I guess you might have seen that one before. It turns the one eating something with it in it into a big canary. The feathers fall out one after the other, and once they're all gone, you turn back. I know a few times someone used it in the Great Hall," Harry explained, happy to collect the sickles Crabbe got out of his pocket and hand over a piece of parchment together with the change.

"If you use that on me, you'll be in trouble!" Zabini said to Crabbe with more than a little fervour in his voice.

"We'll visit family over Yule. Last year a cousin hexed me as a prank. This will be great revenge." Crabbe's face was satisfied, and the boy left to store his newly purchased goods in his trunk.

It didn't take long to attract a crowd with the Weasley merchandise. One of the older boys complained about the prices he had paid previously for a nosebleed nougat. "I guess you didn't purchase it directly from the Weasley twins?" Harry asked and got a shake of a head and a scowl as an answer. "Then it's likely that it was sold and bought more than once before it came into your hands, and someone made a profit out of it." With grumbling acceptance the other handed over the money and accepted the box, along with a sheet of parchment filled with writing.

One of the first-year boys tossed a tube of canary cream back on the table, scoffing at his friend, "Who would like to sound like an animal? Howling like a werewolf? Why would you want to sound like one of those monsters? I think the Ministry should just kill them all and the problem would be solved," before turning as if to vanish into the crowd surrounding the table.

Harry felt himself go very still at this casual dismissal of the humanity of werewolves. Without much of a thought Harry had extended his arm, his hand taking a firm grasp on the back of the boy's robe, reaching his target with the thoughtless ease of the practiced seeker. "What did you say?" His voice was almost a growl, the small boy turning as far as he was able, his face pale and his eyes wide. "Did you just state it would be a good idea to just round up and kill a group of witches and wizards to just kill them? Regardless of if they had violated any laws or not? Without a trial? Or are my ears tricking me?"

Harry didn't really register the awkward angle the boy had to hold his head with that much of his robe clutched in Harry's hand, but he registered all the eyes that were on him, the silence around them, the rising tension.

"Yeah, that's what I said! You've got a problem with that? They're all dangerous beasts. My parents say they're better off dead anyway!" Either the little Slytherin had argued with the Hat just as Harry had done the evening of his Sorting, or he hadn't yet learned any subtlety at all. It was also possible he was ambitious and not cunning. At all. Because saying such a thing when at a clear disadvantage wasn't the smartest thing to do.

"You already learnt Wingardium Leviosa? The levitation charm? You know, a friend of mine knocked out a troll using that charm, back when we were first-years. So you can be dangerous too. Each of us can be. Do you think we should all be killed, just because there are some choosing to do evil? Harm others? No?" The boy was now rapidly shaking his head, clearly afraid of Harry.

That was what finally penetrated the anger that had gripped Harry. He was terrified of himself. Had he just grabbed an eleven-year-old kid? Almost shaking him, yelling at him?

Yes he had. Suddenly he felt sick to his stomach. Carefully he loosened his grip, making sure the boy stayed upright. He took a deep breath to centre himself, and get more distance between himself and his anger. This reaction had been overly dramatic. But his anger hadn't been unfounded. Had it? No, casually suggesting a large number of humans should be killed wasn't something you just let stand.

"You should think more about what you say, and not just parrot back what someone else told you," Harry said, now a lot calmer. But the churning feeling in his stomach was still there.

Ignoring the first-year now scurrying away, he turned to the other fifth-years, seeing curious and careful expressions aimed his way. "Draco can you take over the distribution? I have to collect something from my room before we go up for dinner." After he had received a small nod from the blond, Harry hurried away to the safety of his own room.

He was horrified over his own reaction. He didn't want to be a bully. He hated bullies! Where had that come from?

ooOoo

Theo was on the move the moment his silent conversation with Draco and Daphne was finished. They all had seen the horror in their friend's eyes. He had been terrified by his own reaction.

It had been unexpected, so Theo supposed he could understand the surprise, and considering how… mild and non-confrontational Harry seemed to be most of the time – even with his snark and sarcasm shining through with increasing frequency – the violent reaction seemed a little out of character for the new Slytherin.

Speeding up after he was out of sight, Theo managed to reach Harry at the door to his room before the other could properly close it. "Come on, let me in. You look like you can use a friend." Obviously hearing the steel in Theo's voice, Harry let his hand fall from the door, walking over to his desk, starting to rummage around some drawers.

Because he had another priority at the moment, Theo only allowed himself a brief look around the room. It was quite similar to the normal dorm rooms, if a bit bigger and more orderly than the room he had to share with not only Draco and Blaise, but Vince and Greg as well. The last two weren't the most orderly people.

"What the kid said wasn't right. He not only contradicted Lord Slytherin's politics in public where you could hear him. He also casually demanded the death of innocent, if occasionally dangerous, people." Theo walked over the really nice rug over to the bed and sat down at the edge. "Don't beat yourself up over this. Maybe you overreacted. But you caught yourself. No one came to harm. Maybe he'll learn to think before opening his mouth and parroting what he's heard somewhere. At least he'll learn to keep his mouth shut until he knows how the wind is blowing where he is at the moment."

Harry made a face at that, making Theo smirk. Of course the Gryffindor sensibilities would object to the fact that you could think whatever you well pleased, as long as you knew when and where to speak your mind and when to keep quiet.

"Come on, let's get up to dinner, and after let's play a game of chess. You need to practice if you want to get better."

Harry rolled his eyes at Theo for that obvious attempt to change the topic, but he smiled. "Thanks for trying to cheer me up. Let's go. Will you help with the younger years tomorrow in the Defence Club meeting? I think we should improvise a session on how to use prank charms any first year would know to get away from a dangerous person."

Glad that his friend didn't seem inclined to brood over the incident, Theo happily agreed. Making sure the younger kids knew how to defend themselves adequately was a good goal. Reinforcing the lesson Harry had taught this evening was a nice side effect.

oooOOooo

After a long day teaching classes, and an evening spent grading essays with Sonja reading a potions magazine next to him, Severus was on his way to the hospital wing. He had a basket of finished potions to deliver. The days since his visit to his ancestral home – his own manor now – had been busy ones. He had instructed the elves in what he wanted them to do, which rooms to make habitable first, how he wanted the potions garden planted, and other things along those lines.

He had taken Sonja to visit, and they both had admired the potions laboratories – yes, several laboratories – in the basement. At the moment they were debating on whether Severus should sell the house his parents had left him. And about the robes they would need to have made for the events they would have to attend after officially claiming his new title. She thought it would be best to go to one of the tailors in Diagon Alley, Severus would prefer to have one of the elves make them for him. Honey had said she was proficient in sewing. Sonja was sceptical.

Severus stepped through the doors to the infirmary, seeing that all the beds were empty, but there was light still on in Madame Pomfrey's office. With a few more steps, phials softly tinkling in the basket as they moved against each other, Severus came close enough to the door that he could hear two voices behind it, arguing. Out of habit, Severus' steps got lighter, more careful, so he wouldn't make as much noise.

When he recognized the voice of Aberforth Dumbledore, he cast a spell on himself to make sure his steps, clothes, and the basket he was carrying wouldn't make a sound. This was too good an opportunity to waste.

"That can't be right. Truly, you must be mistaken." The medi-witch sounded distressed, as if she wished whatever she had been told was a lie. A fire was burning, the scent of burning wood and the sounds of flames didn't leave a doubt. Maybe a floo call?

"I know what I have seen." There were stubborn undertones in the younger Dumbledore's voice. "And I don't claim to be right, that's why I'm asking you to check. He is acting strange. Making plans to keep a student from their guardian. I think he's losing it. There's only one other explanation, and I hope that's not the reason. I rather would believe he's getting old enough to lose his marbles. So please, the next time he's in range of your wand, cast a diagnostic and test for dementia." At the end, the owner of the most shady pub in Hogsmeade was demanding that Pomfrey should just do as he said.

While the two inside the office – Dumbledore most likely by floo call in the fireplace – were debating over technicalities, Severus mulled over the few words he had overheard. The Headmaster was planning to abduct a student? There was practically no way the student in questions wasn't his Lord's son, the boy he was sworn to protect. Who else could be a target? One of the Death Eater's children? It was unlikely the Headmaster would try to capture one of those kids.

After several moments the discussion inside the office slowly was moving to an end. Severus moved back to the entrance, removed the spell keeping his level of noise down, before he walked back towards the office, making more noise than he normally would. When he was back, knocking on the office door, he heard the last words of farewell between the school medi-witch and the Headmaster's brother, before the door opened.

"Good evening. I have here the new batches of Pepper-Up potion, sleeping draught, calming draught, and stomach soother. Are there others you will need more of?" Long practice enabled the Potions Master to look unconcerned and not show any of his inner planning and scheming to the witch accepting the basket from him.

"I'll need more skin-cleaning solution soon. Some teenagers get up to some desperate measures over pimples." She rolled her eyes, turning to place the basket on a table near her storage shelves.

"Please send me a list as soon as possible. I'll have to plan carefully to get everything brewed in time." They wished each other a good night before Severus left, and Madame Pomfrey started to move the new potions into the spots she had designated for them.

On his way down to the dungeons, Severus laid out a plan for the rest of the night. He would need to inform his Lord as soon as he could, without drawing undue attention from the Headmaster or any of the man's spies. It was impossible to leave the castle without being spotted by at least a few portraits, or without alerting the Headmaster through the wards. At least Severus was pretty sure the wards were set to inform the Headmaster if a student or member of staff left the premises.

Maybe his best bet would be to fake being summoned. Deciding on this course of action, Severus chose a stretch of hallway with a lot of portraits to touch his arm, right over the mark, for a brief moment before accelerating his pace. Hopefully this would corroborate his claim once the Headmaster received the report from his spies on the walls.

Sonja was already in her nightgown, only wearing an open robe over it, when Severus set foot into their quarters. She looked questioningly when he only gave her a short kiss, before going for the wardrobe and the hidden compartment inside, where his Death Eater robes and mask were hidden. "You're being summoned?" She sounded sleepy and on edge at the same time.

"No, love. But I have something to report, so I will claim a summons as the reason for leaving the school. There is no need to worry." He got his wand out, casting a patronus to inform the Headmaster he would leave, as was the established procedure between them.

"Then I'll take a book and will sit up reading. As I would do if you truly were called to a madman bent on destruction." She gave him a small smirk, winking at him, while hiding a yawn behind one hand. Her ring reflecting the light from the candles and fireplace sent a pleasant feeling through Severus.

They exchanged another kiss, before Severus charmed both items he had retrieved from the wardrobe to shrink until they fit into his pocket. He wouldn't actually don them, at least not until he returned to the school, so he would present the expected image for the Headmaster.

ooOoo

Marvolo was preparing a small room for Nagini's use during the time she was to shed her current skin. As no elf would be able to understand her instructions, and she already was irritable enough, Marvolo was currently adjusting the humidity, number and position of stones, branches, and other natural objects, as well as the temperature, to Nagini's specifications.

.:Now it's to warm. Just a little colder. And that big stone over there should be like a stone right from out of the sun:. she hissed impatiently, her eyes getting a milky colour, a clear indicator the big reptile was about to exchange her skin for one a little bit bigger so she could keep growing.

Not complaining, Marvolo cast a few more charms, making a big stone in one corner of the room self-heating so it would feel like a stone which had been in the sun for several hours. She was really moody shortly before she was about to shed her skin.

Suddenly Marvolo felt one of his followers calling for him through the Mark. That hadn't happened at all since he had returned to a body. He wasn't sure about the time he had been nothing more than a ghost. At the moment, he thought it most likely that not one of his Death Eaters had thought to summon him during that time.

.:I need to leave, Nagini. Please test the room, I will adjust what still isn't the way you like it, once I'm back:. Her hiss in answer to this information sounded displeased, but getting everything to a point where she would be satisfied could take hours still. So he cast a spell at the door, to keep the atmosphere inside the room separate from the rest of the house, before he went to get his robes and apparate over to Headquarters.

The moment Marvolo arrived in the big room used for meetings – the place he had been called to – the one waiting for him got down on one knee, dark robes pooling around him on the floor. It took only a short look for the Dark Lord to be sure that Severus had called for him. The fact that he had done so through the Mark was a reassurance. If there had been a problem with Henry, the man would have sent a patronus.

"Severus, rise. What is so urgent you have to inform me at this time of night?" It wasn't all that late, but late enough that most sensible people who needed to get up in the morning would be headed for bed.

"I overheard a conversation I believe you need to know about, my Lord," The still-kneeling man answered, his head still bowed. Marvolo rolled his eyes, sure the other wouldn't be able to see it. In a way, this display of deference and submission was gratifying, but it also made things more complicated than they should be, making interactions between him and his followers a lengthy process.

"I said rise, Severus. And follow. It sounds like this will take some time, I'd rather sit for a longer talk." Without waiting for Severus to do as he asked, expecting the man to hurry, Marvolo turned around and made his way over to his office in the house. He would take this opportunity to take a drink before he had to deal with an irate Nagini again.

Two tumblers were retrieved as well as a bottle of excellent muggle scotch before Severus arrived at the door, following Marvolo in with another bow. Following a silent command, given with the wave of a hand, Severus sat down in the chair reserved for visitors.

"What is it you want to report?" Marvolo asked, swirling the drink in its glass, marveling at its smooth colour and scent.

Severus took up his own glass, cradling it between his hands folded around the small container. "While delivering potions to the infirmary, I heard Madame Pomfrey talking to someone I think was Aberforth Dumbledore, about the man's suspicion the Headmaster may be suffering from a decline in his mental health. He demanded the mediwitch test the Headmaster for dementia. The proof he provided was a plan hatched by the Headmaster to keep a student from his or her guardian. He wasn't elaborating on the plan, but I think the most likely target for such a plan would be your son, my Lord." Severus took a tentative sip from his drink, the Potions Master always was careful with spirits or wine around Marvolo. Probably a force of habit, because in the past his followers had needed their wits about them all the time they stayed in his presence.

"Do you think you will be able to get more details? My son carries reasonable protection against abduction with him at all times, but if the Headmaster really means it, my son could come to great harm before I can be there to get him to safety." Suddenly his stomach made odd movements, churning, making Marvolo think of what might cause something like this. It wasn't the first time something like this had happened. When he had been told his son had fallen down the stairs from his dorm, breaking several bones, he had felt something similar.

He was worried about another person coming to harm. It was disconcerting and reassuring at the same time. Reassuring because it was an indicator for his returning and still-improving humanity, the harm undone that he had inflicted on himself. And disconcerting because such feelings could easily be exploited by others, and therefore presented a weakness. He would have to find ways to shield his weaknesses, because cutting away his human nature would harm his magic and mind again. Not an error he would repeat knowingly.

"It will not be an easy task. If he really asked his brother to assist with such a plan, he clearly doesn't trust the members of his Order with this. And rightfully so, I would say. Those still standing staunchly by his side mostly aren't inclined to do anything risky, or so obviously against the law. Those who would be willing to risk something like that, are no longer following the Headmaster blindly." Severus paused to take another cautious sip. "I would hazard a guess that any attempt to abduct your son would happen only when he leaves the grounds of the school. Either during the last Hogsmeade visit, or with the start of the winter holidays, my Lord."

Marvolo nodded in agreement. It was the most likely time to try something like this, because an abduction from school grounds would cause trouble for the Headmaster of the school, maybe even cast suspicion on the man. He would surely try to avoid that.

"Look for more information, but be careful not to compromise your position. I will make Henry aware of the potential problem." Taking another sip himself, a little evil smirk settled on Marvolo's face. "How is your wife? And have you already prepared everything to claim your seat on the Wizengamot properly?" Marvolo knew he was rattling the other's composure with that question. He knew that Severus wasn't really looking forward to taking up the position in the spotlight he would get the moment he came to the Wizengamot chamber laying claim to the Prince seat.

"I have begun to get everything ready, my Lord. I'm still debating on the right robes to wear, and the right moment to announce my claim. I'm also still unsure if I should inform the Headmaster beforehand, or not." Severus sounded reluctant, but relaxed a little more into his seat, assuming a position more fitted to a peer, an equal, not a follower or subservient.

"I guess you'll have to make the decision of whether informing the Headmaster beforehand is a good idea or not. But I can give you the planned agenda for the next regular meeting." With a wave of his hand, Marvolo cast a silent accio for the sheet of parchment on which he had copied the agenda of the next Wizengamot meeting.

A small scroll zoomed over from a shelf near the door, landing in the outstretched hand of the Dark Lord before he flicked his hand again to banish it in Severus' direction.

Fumbling a bit because he still held the small tumbler in both hands, Severus managed to catch the scroll before he set the remainder of his drink down on the desk in front of him. After he had unfurled the scroll and had scanned the agenda, Severus pulled a face of distaste, causing Marvolo to chuckle. "Be glad it isn't the budgeting session. That one could be classified as torture. I would advise you to announce your claim during the open session to bring forward unexpected additions to the agenda at the start of the meeting, just after the section where the Minister informs about various things."

A hand with long, pale fingers came up to pinch the bridge of Severus' prominent nose. There was no way he could deny his family connection to the Prince family. "I feel like this will be the hardest order to follow you have ever given to me, my Lord. Dealing with all those dunderhead Gryffindor Lords and Ladies… What do you wish me to report to the Headmaster regarding the content of our meeting, my Lord?"

With those words the deferential posture was back again, Severus sitting at attention in his seat, head slightly lowered, small scroll vanishing inside one of his robe pockets. Marvolo leaned back with a small sigh. It was easier with Xerxes to be just himself, and not the Dark Lord. Maybe with time this state could be reached with some of the younger followers as well.

"If you need advice on your robes, go with something in family colours, and maybe cut more along the lines of the robes you use in the laboratory, remind the others that you have a Mastery, have reached a respectable position under unfavourable conditions. So maybe traditional robes altered to include some of the typical features of brewing robes, such as sleeves that narrow down considerably towards the hands?" That Lucius fell almost too easily in a somewhat friendly relationship with Marvolo irked the man, but that Severus constantly slid back into a much more subservient role, always so cautious, not trusting his Lord even if he was willing to follow his every command, was somehow even more infuriating. Maybe Marvolo needed another meeting with Mrs. Goyle, as he obviously wasn't going to get his feelings and reactions in order without professional help.

"I will take your advice under consideration, my Lord." Severus bowed in his chair, not relenting on what he had asked for, an explanation about why he had been called.

Marvolo sighed again, this was frustrating and wouldn't be solved by cursing the other man. "Give me a report on Henry's progress in Potions, as well as an evaluation over the stance of the other Slytherins towards him. After that, I would like to know how your two potions experiments are developing. For the Two Fathers potion I might have another willing proband for you. He is currently in his last year at Hogwarts, but I guess he will not wait long after school to settle down."

Severus started on his two reports on the spot, leaving Marvolo to listen to his Potions Master and wondering how he could manage to change the way they interacted to something he felt more comfortable with. It was over an hour later before Severus left to join his wife, and Marvolo apparated back to Griffin House to pander to Nagini's irritated demands. Maybe he would find some time to work some more on his theory on how to move horcruxes between containers without harming either container or soul piece. It was a most frustrating puzzle to solve.

oooOOooo

Friday, 8th of December

It had been a long day for Harry. The way most of the younger years had looked at him in the common room and during meals, it was clear that they were spooked by the display they had seen the day before.

Theo's attempt to make him feel better hadn't dispelled all his doubts, but his friend's attempt to help him had eased some of his worries. He hadn't been angry about something stupid, petty. But about the casual dismissal of the value of human lives. He had over-reacted, but had managed to catch himself. At the moment, Harry planned to speak with Mrs. Goyle tomorrow to see what she thought about this.

But that was tomorrow. Today, or rather now in this moment, the next meeting of the Defence Club was about to start. Once again the Great Hall had been cleared for more floor space, and students from all Houses and years had assembled. Hermione was standing beside him, looking over the crowd, a smug look on her face. She loved organizing these meetings and all the others listening attentively to explanations from her and Harry.

He had informed her the previous evening that they should change the next lesson to one on what damage was possible with first year spells and charms, and how it was important to be careful, as well as how creative use of them could help in a pinch. They had done similar exercises before. But all in all, it was important to keep practising.

"Hello, everyone!" Harry got the attention of all those present. "Thank you all for coming. Today we will practice shield charms and various little hexes. We all need to remember the damage that can be done even with spells that seem harmless if cast in the right – or wrong – situation. A tripping hex on someone near a ledge, or on stairs, can possibly even kill. So always be aware of the damage each of us is capable of!"

With the last Harry searched the room for the cluster of first-year Slytherins, wanting to impress on them that just because someone could cause a lot of harm was no reason to kill them.

Soon after that, Harry and Hermione walked down from the dais and out among the students, helping with explanations and demonstrations where needed.

After Harry had explained how a person under the influence of a Petrificus Totalus falling face first into a shallow puddle could easily drown before the spell wore off to the young Miss Smith and her friend – quite aware of the fact the boy from yesterday was only a few steps away – a voice he knew well tried to get his attention.

"Harry, can you help us? I think we have the pronunciation of the jelly-legs jinx wrong."

He turned and came face to face with Cho Chang, the Ravenclaw seeker and the girl he had asked to the ball last year. Without success. It was a little embarrassing remembering his fumbling attempt to ask her out, and how long he had taken to even gather the courage to go up to her and ask.

"Can you show me?" he asked, trying his hardest to not blush. Cho was really pretty and still managed to make his stomach do funny things.

Cho and her friend – Harry thought her name was Edgecombe – turned to each other, Cho casting a stable Protego and her friend, with her reddish-blond hair in a messy bun, attempting to cast the jelly-legs jinx at her friend's shield.

"No, your pronunciation is good. You're making an extra twitch at the end of the wand movement. Look!" Harry got his own wand out, and not pointing at anyone, demonstrated the movement a few times, before he asked Cho's friend to copy him.

After a few more tries, a light shot from Edgecombe's wand towards Cho's shield. "Thank you, Harry." Cho started to say more, but Harry felt a hand on his arm and turned to see who was there.

"Hello, Harry! I have no partner to practice with." It was Luna, standing there, a dreamy expression on her face, as if the fact that no one had been willing to work with her wasn't all that bad. Remembering all the times he had been selected last for a team in a school sports lesson, or how the other children had stayed away from him because of Dudley and all the lies Harry's aunt and uncle had told, he decided to do something about it. He might not be able to force others to accept the sometimes quirky Ravenclaw, but he could make sure that she had someone to practice with.

Not quite ignoring Cho's further words of thanks, but dismissing them with a small nod, Harry walked together with Luna to a place where they could stand face to face a few feet apart. "I'll start with a shield, and you can cast the first jinx," he encouraged the girl across from him. At first he thought that she wasn't paying any attention, which caused his shield to waver. He barely managed to get it back up before a yellow stinging hex would have crashed right into his face.

With Harry now no longer deceived by Luna's seemingly absent-minded state, they exchanged a few more simple so-called prank spells, before Hermione came over with Neville and Ron in tow. "I think Luna can practice with Ron and Neville for a while, Harry. You need to help me with explaining to the others."

"You okay with that, Luna?" Harry wanted to know from his practice partner. She nodded, but Harry nonetheless was a little reluctant to leave her with his two friends. Explaining something as simple as the Protego to a sixth-year was embarrassing. More than one had objected to his explanation at the start of the Club. A few still did.

So it happened that Harry walked by a few seventh-years boys, with Defence as one of their NEWT courses, when one of them commented on a girl – a seventh-year as well, if Harry remembered correctly – which was practising different shields not too far away. "Those robes hide too much. Have you seen what she looks like only in a skirt and blouse?" There was something eager in their voices. Harry wasn't all that sure this was how one was supposed to talk about a girl. "Oh yes! And her ass! Do you think I could get her to agree to come on a date this Hogsmeade weekend?"

Harry walked over to some of the younger students, trying to ignore the way the older boys had talked. He wasn't here to help the NEWT students with their practising. Most of the time they just went over the spells they needed to know and be able to cast for their exams at the end of the year. A few helped out with explaining now and again. No, he was here to help those in OWL year or under, and a few others who hadn't bothered taking Defence against the Dark Arts further after taking their OWL in the subject.

So Harry tried to do just that. But the rest of the lesson he had troubles concentrating. As soon as he came near one of the girls close to his age, he couldn't help but notice things about them he until now mostly had ignored. He saw the way Hermione's cardigan sat around her chest – she had discarded her robe some time before – and had to remember himself sternly that she was more like a sister to him. The way Ginny's skirt swung around her legs, as she dodged a well-aimed powerful leg-locker curse thrown by one of the twins.

It was very distracting and mortifying. Some of the girls were almost strangers to him, Hermione and Ginny family, almost sisters. And then there was the warning from Marvolo in the back of his mind. That some families had strict expectations regarding dating and everything associated with it.

Harry did his best to ignore what suddenly caught his eye wherever he looked. Now he was happier than ever that Daphne had already asked him to be her date to those events they would be visiting together. Girls had been terrifying before, and Harry was sure that becoming a blubbering idiot staring at their chests wouldn't make interacting with them any easier.

As if being adopted hadn't been enough already, becoming an adult at the same time was just too much. Maybe he could get advise from an adult? He would have to think about that, because Sirius would be the easiest to talk to, but Harry very much doubted that he would also be the most helpful adult. Somehow it felt more like the man would tease Harry without mercy over Harry's insecurities.

Turning to a pair of Hufflepuffs – he was pretty sure those were second-years – Harry banished all thoughts from his head that weren't related to instructing, and concentrated on the club meeting.

oooOOooo

The party he was headed to today – one in a list of many, many more – was to be held in a clearing somewhere in the woods. To make attending possible, the invitation was a portkey. His old Head of House had always been eccentric about everything. Some of the parties he had held for his selected few had been outright ridiculous. In a way, Marvolo was curious what was in store for them today.

But even more curious had been the fact he had been invited at all. With all the old professor knew about Marvolo's time as a student, he would have guessed the man would be wary of him. But maybe all his work to get his reputation repaired had worked so well that he once more was someone Horace Slughorn wanted to have in his collection.

Unsure if this was a trap, possibly set by Albus Dumbledore, or a sign of his success in reintegrating himself with society, Marvolo checked his appearance a last time. He had selected trousers from a dark woollen cloth, a silk shirt with a silk vest – richly decorated with embroidery and glass beads – over which he would wear an open robe made of wool and lined with silk. He planned to apply ample warming charms if it proved to be necessary. A clearing in the middle of nowhere. It was a distinct possibility that he would need warm clothing to avoid having his teeth clattering together.

Reading the activation phrase from the bottom of the invitation out loud, Marvolo activated the portkey, and after a moment spent in the colourful disorientation that was portkey travel, he found himself on a nice carpet surrounded by floating lights. It took a moment, but then his eyes – glamoured again to hide their true colour – adjusted to the lighting situation, so Marvolo could properly take in his surroundings. Others were already there, and a young witch wrapped up in what looked like a Roman or ancient Greek costume in colours probably intended to look like ice and snow – there was too much glittering involved to be anything else – came up to him. "Welcome, Lord Slytherin! Your host asked me to show you to him the moment you arrived. Please follow me!"

She seemed friendly enough and wouldn't really pose a threat in such a public venue, so Marvolo didn't object, but smiled a little polite greeting. "Lead the way, fair Lady." Her delighted giggles were another proof that simple flattery could get you a long way with any human.

While following the young witch, Marvolo had time to take in the décor. Charmed ice was arranged in blocks to form small benches, tables, and a buffet off to one side. The light was provided by floating orbs and what looked like fairies that fluttered about. The ground was covered with a large number of carpets, leaving only small gaps to see snow through. It seemed parties out in the open were the thing done this season. Hopefully the next few parties would be held inside and near a nice, warm fire.

The host was surrounded by a number of younger celebrities. Or rather people who were called celebrities. A singer Marvolo thought he had seen on the front of the Daily Prophet once since his return, members of the Harpies Quidditch team, and someone who Marvolo suspected was the team's manager.

"Welcome!" Horace Slughorn called out the moment he saw Marvolo stepping into the group surrounding his settee placed between two fires lit in bronze braziers. "How nice that you could make it, Lord Slytherin! I imagine you got way more invitations than you could accommodate, didn't you?" The man, quite a bit larger than in his time as Head of Slytherin House at Hogwarts, managed to get to his feet and held his hands out in front of him. To Marvolo's immense relief, it was only to shake hands and not to hug him. That would have been simply too awkward to contemplate.

"My secretary had a lot of trouble balancing all the invitations that I got. But I have to commend his organizational talent, he managed to fit everyone in whom I insisted to visit." Barty had truly made a great effort to make the plans work out, but this party had been on the maybe list, not the can't-avoid-have-to-go list. Making Slughorn believe he had been one of those inviting him whom he really wanted to see, was beneficial in Marvolo's eyes, so he let him believe it without speaking it out loud. Always tell the truth if you could, it was much better than lying, because it was easier to do and much harder to spot.

"Go around, meet a few people. You'll find more than a few Ministry-related wizards and witches here. What I heard was, you haven't had much time to get to know the current finest of magical Britain!" Slughorn clearly wanted to impress his acquaintances with the fact that he had managed to invite Lord Slytherin to his party, and curry favour with him by granting him the opportunity to meet more people who might be useful.

Connections were a currency Slughorn always had known how to invest and use to his advantage. And maybe he could use this party to find a few possible candidates to draw to his side of things. A quidditch star was influential with young wizards and witches, and the more simple-minded masses. They could open up ways to get his message out to those not inclined to read a book or think too hard.

"I'll do that," Marvolo agreed with a smile and a polite nod, provoking his old teacher to laugh jovially. Before the old man could say much more, he was drawn into a conversation with a witch dressed quite extraordinarily. It was possible she was a member of that popular musician group called the Weird Sisters, but Marvolo wasn't sure. As he turned to see if there was someone he might be interested in speaking with, an arm snaked around his own, drawing him closer to a muscular, female body. Suppressing his first response – cursing whoever dared touch him without his consent – Marvolo turned to look at his assailant.

"Nice to meet you, Lord Slytherin. Or may I call you Marvolo?" Her voice was nice to listen to, and what he had felt to be a well-trained body, looked the same. Adding her nice dark and flawless skin to the other things he could see, she combined many traits in herself that most considered desirable. Or so he assumed by his observations and readings.

"I don't even know your name, lovely Lady. Don't you think calling me by my first name would be rushing things?" Marvolo tried to relax his posture and not tense up. He wanted to be charming here, gain possible allies, not alienate strangers. And she was possibly flirting with him.

She laughed and fluttered her eyelashes at him.

Definitely flirting.

"My name is Gwenog. Gwenog Jones. I'm captain of the Holyhead Harpies." Her smile was radiant. Marvolo was relatively sure she was interested in him. He didn't feel the same.

"Nice to meet you, Miss Jones. I heard your team is doing well this season. How is your training going?" Marvolo managed a nice conversation with her, subtly rebuking her flirting attempts clearly geared to get him to agree to a more short term involvement.

"I'm a single father of a teenaged boy. There are responsibilities that override a few things one could consider pleasant self-indulgence." He managed to pull off a convincing look of regret to go with that statement, making her back off, stating he was one of the more responsible adult males she had ever met. She gave him a peck to the cheek and promised to send him and his son tickets to one of her games that was to take place during the summer holidays.

After that conversational minefield, Marvolo retreated to a bar off to the side, to order himself one of the drinks, after he had noticed – with his lips curling in distaste – the fact there were no simple spirits or wines to chose from, only those mixed concoctions with much more fruits and sugar than he wanted to ingest. He needed a drink, so one of those sugar-infested, colourful things it had to be.

While watched a house elf shaking a clear container with a lid in the air above its head, a young wizard leaned against the bar next to Marvolo. "It's hard dodging witches all the time, isn't it? If you want, I can introduce you to my circle of friends for maybe more interesting company." If he hadn't been looking for subtle cues at all the parties he attended, he might have missed the wiggle of eyebrows or the quick wink. But he did watch for tells like these, so he did see.

Great. Another one interested in dragging him off to a secluded corner, or another private space.

"That is a generous offer. Mister...?" Marvolo let his question trail off. Maybe he should spend some time learning the faces and names of all the minor celebrities of wizarding Britain, and everyone involved with various businesses. It might make these parties a little easier.

"Oh! I'm Rolf Spudmore, related to the Spudmore family creating brooms over in Germany. I'm managing the subsidiary here in Britain. Nice to meet you, Lord Slytherin." he extended a hand, while his other elbow remained firmly planted on the bar.

The elf set the drink down in front of Marvolo, levitating a straw, a small umbrella made from paper, and a charmed giant snowflake onto the glass rim to decorate the sweet-smelling drink.

Accepting the hand in a short shake, Marvolo cast a wandless detection charm on the glass. It was free of poisons, potions, or any other tampering. He took a cautious sip and made a face. It was sweet enough, but combined with the spirits in there, it was a little strange. Maybe he could get used to it over time. He took another sip before turning to the smiling young man at his side.

"Nice to meet you too, Mr. Spudmore." Another sip to give him time to gather his thoughts. "I would really like to meet your friends. But what I said to Miss Jones is the same I will tell you. I'm a single father, and have a reputation to repair. Indulging in… some things that might be seen as… questionable in the public eye isn't something I can risk at this point in time."

This declaration didn't cause the small smile to vanish from a classically beautiful face. Another person who usually would be called attractive. Was he attracted to the man? Marvolo wasn't sure.

"Well, considering the… climate in good old Britain, and the expectations heaped upon us, we know how to be discreet. But there isn't a need to rush." After that the conversation changed to the current climate for the broom industry and what Henry felt about his current model – the Firebolt – and how it compared to the Nimbus he had had before. It felt like a safer topic, and while they talked, often joined by others who stayed only a short time, no other witches tried to catch Marvolo's interest quite as boldly as Miss Jones had done.

It was a really tired Marvolo who returned home in the early hours of the morning. He would need to go on a vacation after the holiday season was over.

oooOOooo

AN: starting from the 17th of October I will have to make room in my writing time for some real-world things. Writing time will be short, and access to the internet almost non-existent, so I will move the date for the next chapter a bit to accommodate those demands on my time.

With my phone I will be able to read my mail and see your reviews. But I will probably not be able to answer any of them.

Thanks to Jordre and Jake for helping to improve my spelling!

First published on the 6th of October 2017

Next chapter planned for 25th of October 2017