AN: it seems as if there was no notification email for Chapter 68! It was posted on the 16th of February; if you haven't read it yet you should do so before you start on this chapter! I wish you fun reading!

oooOOooo

Festival

Saturday, 23rd of December

Currently Sonja and Severus were out in what was to become the potions garden, laying down a plan of what to plant where. It was always important to take the soil into consideration, as well as water availability, shade and sun, and what other plants were growing nearby. Therefore they were out here to see the place with their own eyes and check the conditions with all their senses.

Severus had a sturdy piece of paper clipped to a board, as well as a pencil to make sketches and take notes with. Both were more convenient in this scenario than the usual parchment, quill, and ink.

They had left the castle this morning right after breakfast. Sitting at the same table as the students, because so few had stayed this year, wasn't what Severus would call a nice breakfast situation. He had been glad to leave early.

"Do you think it's going to work out for us to stay the whole day?" Sonja suddenly asked, adjusting her scarf and hat.

"Aurora agreed to watch my snakes for me today. And there are a female and a male prefect among those that have opted to stay behind. If there should be any trouble, they know who to ask for help. I'm sure they all will still be there when we return this evening." And how Severus wished he could hand the responsibilities of Head of House to someone else for at least the duration of these holidays. He dearly wished to spent as much time as possible with his lovely wife in the manor, renovating.

"So I guess we won't get to stay here tomorrow?" Sonja said with a grin, using her hoe to break the slightly frozen ground of the spot they were currently checking.

"Minerva certainly will insist that we attend all meals. But there is still more to the holidays than Christmas. So we will get more opportunities to work on the Manor." Severus grinned over to his wife. She grinned back. "We'll be expected at the Malfoys' tomorrow, so we'll be able to escape the castle for at least part of the day." They had a lot of fun renovating. Much more than Severus would ever have guessed.

He let his eyes wander over the horizon, or what he could see between the small outbuildings and trees surrounding the Manor. Everything was covered in a thin layer of ice crystals – glittering even in the overcast light they had – the air cold and crisp. It was a really nice winter day to be outside securely wrapped up in warm clothing.

Just moments before he was about to bend over his board again – to write down Sonja's assessment of the soil at the spot she currently was examining – when he spotted the form of an owl heading in their direction.

The notes forgotten, Severus fixed his eyes on the approaching messenger. It only took a moment for Sonja to pick up on the change in Severus' posture, looking around to search for the cause. Soon they were both following the owl's flight to the half toppled remain of a fence where it rested, clearly waiting to be relieved of its burden, a scroll of parchment.

Dropping the board and pencil to the ground, Severus got out his wand and started casting detection charms at the owl and the missive on his way over. All came back without any indication that there might be a trap laid for him. So it probably was safe to get the scroll from the owl.

The moment the scroll was no longer attached to its leg the owl took off without waiting. Checking the seal, Severus quickly realised who had sent the letter before he broke the seal and unfurled the scroll.

Master Snape,

I write to you in the hope that your schedule will permit the addition of another project. The fact that the goblins have imposed a restriction on the number of ancestry tests hinders the efforts of Lord Lestrange in finding families for those young witches and wizards he is rescuing from the inadequate system of foster care the Muggles have established.

I'm not asking for you to recreate the potion the goblins are using. But I am asking for you to find something to check for familial bonds beyond those between siblings, or parents and child. Something to indicate the existence of common ancestors, not reveal all the names of them. Such a potion shouldn't violate the treaty.

I will, of course, compensate you for your work and the materials should you choose to accept my proposal. Please inform me of your decision.

Sincerely,

Lord Marvolo Slytherin

Several thoughts immediately started running through Severus' mind. There were several perks to being an expert Occlumence. First there was the fact that his Lord had asked him to develop this potion – not ordered – that was something that never had happened before. Then there was the idea of the potion itself. It was intriguing to ponder how he might achieve the goal that had been set.

"Who is the letter from?" Sonja wanted to know, gliding over the ground over to him. Her curiosity shone in her eyes.

"Lord Slytherin." Severus smiled at her questioning glance. "He asked if I might develop a potion for him." Holding out the scroll for her in invitation, he smirked. He loved the challenge that the development of a new potion offered.

Sonja snatched the scroll out of his hand, unfurling it, to read as quickly as she could. The smile that spread over her face was evidence of how much she liked inventing too. "I think there are some books in the library that could help us with that." She waved the scroll in a playful manner. "Do you want to finish here first, or go back and start right this moment?"

They shared a smirk. Severus summoned their supplies, and they walked back to the manor holding hands, the library their destination. They would spent a delightful day researching and gathering information to develop their vague ideas into a first attempt they would be able to brew and test.

oooOOooo

Bundled up warmly to ward off the cold, Fabian followed his daughter and wife through the festively decorated London. They had had breakfast this morning and then had made their way into the city to make the last purchases they needed. They had started early so they would have the afternoon and the evening free to visit the school festival his uncle had invited them to. They needed groceries for the meal tomorrow, some last-minute presents for some neighbours, and candles, as well as a few other odds and ends.

"I'm so happy that Uncle Xerxes is getting to know his older sons! I'm sure it'll help him cope with the loss of the younger sons." Hermione obviously struggled over how to talk about the two wizards who had escaped from the prison and then later supposedly died in a fire caused by one of the other escapees.

Fabian smiled another sad smile, unnoticed by the two women walking before him, chattering happily. It had been an interesting meal, conversing with the two wizards who claimed to have been born in South America, listening to their stories, to stories told by Hermione and Xerxes. It always was like getting to peek through a small window into a world so different from, but at the same time eerily similar to, his own.

The timing of the two wizards' appearance was a little suspicious, though. At least in Fabian's eyes. Two sons escaped from prison, and were caught in a fire so that their bodies weren't able to be identified by sight. Hermione had written to them that the newspaper had said that the Aurors had informed them that the remains had been clearly identified. But with the knowledge that magic was able to give someone the appearance of someone else with a potion, it wasn't all that reassuring to hear such claims.

Magic was capable of so much, so why couldn't it be used in faking one's own death?

And shortly after that convenient death – ending the search for the escapees – another two sons, twins, older this time, popped up out of nowhere.

Fabian had read enough murder mysteries to smell a plot twist when he saw it.

Yesterday evening he had asked Hermione to see her ancestry test. He had claimed that he wanted to study it further. Sadly, it only showed Hermione's direct ancestors. Not even Xerxes was on it, only his parents, as they also were Dorcas', Fabian's mother's, parents. No siblings or their descendants, only ever the parents of the one in the generation after that. If it had been different it might have shown if the claim that Xerxes had had a total of four sons was true, or not. So it had proven to be useless in this.

But did it really matter in the end? He had no proof for his suspicion. And he had to assume that those Aurors knew what they were doing. They were the police in the magical world, after all. They should be aware of what magic could achieve. Shouldn't they? And therefore surely they would have tested to make sure no one had used magic to fake their death. Just to pop up as totally different people a few weeks later.

The fact was that his little girl still had enough faith in authority not to fall into the trap of endless worrying and fruitless thoughts going in circles. For all that Fabian knew, the story they had been told was the truth. The two men they had met yesterday certainly had looked older and not at all like the pictures that had been published – even in the news shows on the television – to warn everyone about the dangerous criminals on the loose.

Deciding that it would change nothing, and would only worry everyone, Fabian quickened his stride to walk between his two girls. "Do you want to pick up one of the illustrated books of the most beautiful places all around Britain for the newly discovered members of our family?" Jean and Hermione both laughed, and their daughter happily dragged them over to one of the nearest bookstores to search for a nice present.

They certainly would not leave the store without at least one overburdened bag of books. It never ended any other way when Hermione managed to get them all to go into a bookstore together. They all loved reading too much to let it come out any other way.

Smiling, with his doubts about Tiago and Teofilo all but forgotten, Fabian allowed himself to be dragged into the store overflowing with late shoppers just like them.

oooOOooo

The grounds of Dorcas' School for Youngsters – the name had come from somewhere and stuck despite all efforts from Xerxes to use the other name – was filled with people. There was a strange mix of attire to be seen. Wizards and witches in robes and billowing cloaks, people in the latest muggle fashion, suits and dresses. Pointed hats and knitted caps. Colours ranging from the sombre to the cheerful. Music was playing in the background. Everything was lighted by fire, floating candles, and torches. The scent of cinnamon and other spices, hot apples, and baked goods filled the air. Xerxes walked around, speaking with everyone who wanted a word, happy that his plan had worked so well. If Severus Snape managed to make the potion their Lord had said he would request, it would get even better. Getting all those lost children into families to be loved and cherished was what he truly wanted.

Soon he moved over to the assembly hall with its stage, where the play all the children had worked so hard on would take place. He had never before looked forward to an amateur theatre production with quite as much anticipation as he did now.

While he searched for his place he saw Lucius and his wife standing with the Greengrasses a little farther back, talking animatedly. This informal gathering seemed to be well received by everyone. With a smile Xerxes sat down. Narcissa had selected her robes in a style that put emphasis on the fact that her pregnancy was showing. It was wonderful to know that the number of children was going to increase in the next years.

With a wave to Benjamin and his son, Xerxes sat down to wait for the play to begin.

ooOoo

Theo sat next to his father in the first row watching the play unfold on the stage. The audience sat in darkness, the stage was brightly illuminated.

The play wasn't all that engaging. Lots of small parts of different animals played by the children. Aiden was a fox, and there were a squirrel, a bear, several different birds – including an owl and a magpie – a mouse, a wolf, and several others.

They all looked quite cute in their costumes, complete with makeup. It had been difficult imagining what they would look like only from what Aiden had prattled on and on about the whole time since Theo had come back from school. It was nice having a little brother, and the novelty hadn't worn off yet. And so Theo couldn't really stop grinning.

The seasons changed on the stage by the change of the light from a sunny yellow to a reddish-brown changing the tint on the trees made of cardboard so they changed from summer to autumn trees.

When the trees changed to those of winter – their branches suddenly bare – Theo knew that some magic was in play here. First the leaves did fall down to the wooden floor and then snow started to fall from the ceiling.

The applause after the winter had changed into spring again and the play was over was thunderous. One after the other the audience stood and clapped. Theo felt himself grinning from ear to ear. Aiden had had so much fun preparing for this, it had been a delight to help him rehearse.

"Did you see me?" said boy, still in his fox costume, came running down to Theo, skipping with each step and shouting his question. Then the boy crashed into his older brother, enveloping Theo in a hug.

"Yes, I saw you, Aiden. You were really good!" It was easy to close his arms around his adopted brother, returning the hug. "What do you think? Do you want to get something to eat? I'm hungry!"

For a short moment Aiden stayed in the hug, his head tilted back so he could look up to his much taller brother. And then he suddenly was walking towards the exit, Theo's hand firmly grabbed in his own. Laughing, Theo followed Aiden out into the cold, and over to one of the tables offering food and drink.

ooOoo

"What do you think?" Jean turned around, away from the small stall showcasing a multitude of different ornaments, to look back at her husband, who was standing behind her, grinning at her enthusiasm. "Should we buy one of these for our tree back home?"

There were so many pretty things the children had made. No angels or simple baubles like they could have bought in every other store, but small depictions of robins, snowflakes, different plants, ice crystals. They were simply beautiful.

"As long as it's not something obviously magical, I don't see why not. Maybe that robin over there?" He pointed to a small bird made from clay and painted in bright colours.

Jean gave a small snow globe with eternally falling snow a sorrowful look, but then turned to the different robins. Fabian was right, if they bought something that was obviously magical they couldn't risk it being seen by their neighbours, friends, or co-workers. And that meant they couldn't hang it on the tree.

Sometimes it was hard not being able to tell anyone that their daughter was a witch, and attended a respectable school for magic. Some of their acquaintances tended to mock them – not nearly subtly enough – about the fact that Hermione didn't attend one of the prestigious boarding schools their children had been sent to.

But it was what it was. They knew that their daughter was one of the best students at her school. Was going to be part of her world's leadership. The fact that she took that responsibility as seriously as she did almost everything was something Jean was proud of and a little bit sad over. Her girl tended to be too mature, too much like an adult. She should be a teenager, obsessing over romances, schoolwork, and gossip. Not about the rights of house-elves or Hippogriffs.

In the end they decided to buy a robin and a small bunny, before they wandered to the next small stall offering different kinds of cookies. They were content in the knowledge that Hermione was somewhere here having fun with her friends from school which made it easy for them to luxuriate in the opportunity to delve into the magical world.

ooOoo

Harry stood together with Hermione, Draco, Theo, and the Greengrass sisters near one of the fires, each of them holding a bowl with warm stew – potatoes, carrots, and pork were the dominant ingredients – and a slice of bread, and talked with them. It had only been a few days ago that they had been in school together and then on the train, but they already had so much to talk about again.

Hermione alone had lots to talk about with the meeting of Xerxes and his previously unknown sons only a day in the past. It sounded as if they had had a fun time in London, visiting the Tower, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and Diagon Alley. They even had braved the Knight Bus, which Hermione had talked about with incredulity bright in her eyes. That thing was a safety hazard in her eyes.

Harry couldn't disagree. The way passengers were sliding about with their seats was prone to cause accidents.

Draco had earlier complained about the way his mother's swinging, unstable moods were keeping the house in a tense state. He had come across a sobbing elf near his parents' rooms on the day they had gotten back from school. The blond had assured them all that he was looking forward to becoming a big brother, but until then he was happy to stay at the school, far away from all the drama.

Daphne had just started to talk – using a moment when Hermione had her mouth full of stew – asking questions about their holiday homework when another person stepped into their small circle.

"Henry, I want to talk with you a moment," Marvolo said the moment the light from the fire fell on him, causing all the teenagers to fall silent instantly.

Harry felt like rolling his eyes. There was no reason to fear that Marvolo would do anything to them where so many people were watching. And Harry felt it was unlikely that Marvolo would torture a Death Eater relative of theirs just because they had dared speak in his presence.

Harry nodded and made to step away from his friends, but Marvolo quickly waved at him to stay where he was. "I plan to return home in another hour. Do you want to stay longer? You certainly can stay till the end of the festival if you wish, but I still have a lot of paperwork to tackle." The question had been posed rather matter-of-factly, making Harry feel like they both had learned their roles rather well since the summer.

"I would like to stay a little longer, sir. Shall I take the floo home?" Being allowed to stay behind with his friends felt really good. Marvolo didn't try to control him as the Dursleys had done, or to treat him as a small kid like too many of the Professors had always done. But with the full moon so far off, the wards around the school set by Marvolo himself, and so many adult wizards around, there really wasn't much of a danger to be expected here.

"You may use your portkey," Marvolo made a vague waving motion towards where the chain with the twin crests rested under Harry's shirt, scarf, and cloak, "the Floo, or ask Xerxes, or even Benjamin to apparate you back home."

Their discussion was interrupted when a small boy – not much older than five Harry guessed – came running towards them, and gripped Marvolo's warm robes with both tiny hands. "You need to come! You need to come .:Slithering Darkness:. needs help! Please! Come help!" The boy looked cute in his mouse costume and makeup – his short hair still was charmed a grey befitting a mouse – but he quite obviously was near a panic, keeping tugging on Marvolo's robes.

The moment Harry registered that Marvolo had paled, looking down at the boy, he started to wonder if he really had heard a piece of parseltongue in there.

"Who needs help? And where?" Marvolo sounded calm enough, but Harry was sure there was a slight tremor in the man's voice.

"In the biolog… boil… the classroom with all the pictures of plants and animals. .:Slithering Darkness:. she's stuck under a rock, somehow it toppled from its place and fell on her. I can't get the lid off! Come help!" The tugging was getting more desperate, and now Harry was sure the small kid just had hissed what probably was the name of a snake.

Then Marvolo suddenly looked totally calm. "Show the way." The boy didn't wait around but started to run away from them, Marvolo on his heels in a much faster pace than Harry had ever seen.

"I think I'd better follow," was all Harry said to his friends before he too hurried off. Marvolo was lots better at handling Harry since they had become somewhat of a family, but he doubted that the man who still was a Dark Lord would do so well with a small boy who, if he truly was a Parselmouth, belonged to the family.

Not really acknowledging that possibility yet, Harry dodged a few couples and their children on his way to the biology classroom. It was a good thing that he had kept up with his training. Flying had helped with it, as had the Defence club. Otherwise he certainly wouldn't have managed to run through the crowd without knocking anyone to the ground.

When he reached the classroom, the light was on and Marvolo was bent over something on one of the tables, while the boy dressed up as a mouse was nervously looking on.

A few quick steps brought Harry to the young boy's side, where he crouched down so he wasn't towering over him so much. Suddenly he felt really tall. "Hey. He's really good with magic. The snake will be fine." The moment Harry had said that, he realized that he actually couldn't be sure that the snake would be fine. He didn't know how badly it had been injured. But if it had been too late already, Marvolo surely would have stopped by now. Patting the shoulder of the child by his side, Harry offered what comfort he could, only to find himself with an armful of frightened child a moment later.

oooOOooo

Marvolo tried to concentrate on healing the snake who seemingly was called Slithering Darkness. He certainly had heard that the child had spoken the name of the snake in Parseltongue, and the greeting between the snake – who had several broken ribs as well as injuries to a few inner organs – and the child indicated that they were friends of sorts.

In the back of his mind with a lot of other painful memories he tried to avoid most of the time, was the recollection of the first snake he had ever met. It had been just before he had been sent to school, to learn reading, writing, and all that. He had loved having a friend so unique, something special. After one of the older kids had killed it with a stone, because the girls had shrieked about the dangerous snake, and Marvolo had been helpless, he had never again become so attached to one of the snakes that found him.

Not until he had learned of magic, had learned how to defend himself, sometimes proactively, but the connection he had felt with that very first snake he had only reached again once he had found Nagini.

But now he needed to concentrate on the healing spells he was casting. He had brought the snake here, promised that there would be prey and warmth, essentially taking the snake under his protection. She had been hurt in the place he had left her. It was his responsibility to help her. Maybe he should place a few spells on the terrarium and its contents to make sure something like this couldn't happen again.

A few spells later he sat back, noticing Henry embracing the small boy who had brought them here in an attempt to soothe him. Ignoring that situation and all its implications – any Parselmouth was part of the family, but how could he care for a child as young as the boy? – Marvolo turned to Slithering Darkness. .:How are you feeling, my scaly friend?:.

.:The pain is gone, grown Speaker. Why haven't you visited? One of your hatchlings is here. I like his company. But I would have liked to see you too:. The snake slowly coiled into a small heap, as if she was testing her body, not once looking at either human in the room.

.:I didn't know… that you wanted to see me. I will do better in the future:. Marvolo didn't feel so well. His hands were cold. He felt as if he were going to be sick. He had almost said that he didn't know that he had a hatchling here. But it couldn't be, could it? There was no way that he could take care of such a young child.

Marvolo turned to where Henry still was almost kneeling on the ground, his arms slung around the boy – he didn't even know the young one's name! – both looking at the snake which was slithering over the table, seemingly satisfied with the state of her body.

.:Henry, take him to one of his teachers. He should get out of the costume and get something to eat. I will search for Xerxes, let him know that the home of Slithering Darkness needs better protection:. Before his son could answer, Marvolo turned on his heel and left the room. He needed to get out of there or he would break down.

ooOoo

For a moment Harry was stunned. Why had Marvolo left so fast? Without even placing the snake back in her habitat. But then the boy in his arms turned and Harry realized that he had other priorities right now.

"Let's get her back into her home, and then we will search for your teacher," Harry stated, not sure if he should ask if he was okay with that or if he shouldn't ask. Irate with himself for having to call the boy, boy in his head, Harry decided to do something about that right away. "By the way, I'm Harry. What's your name?"

"Hello, Harry! I'm Marcus. Can we get .:Slithering Darkness:. some new water?" The boy… Marcus looked shy, but much calmer now that the snake was healed.

"Sure we can." Harry stood and walked over to the table, where the snake was curiously peering over the edge. .:May I pick you up? You will get cold pretty fast if you stay out here:.

.:I think Harry will be really careful. I'm sure:. And there was the last doubt about if Marcus was a part of the Slytherin family or not, gone. They would be able to give Marcus a real family.

Harry smiled.

.:I'm always careful when carrying such a fine lady. And I think we will move the stone so it can't crush you again. If that's fine with you?:. The hiss Harry got in answer was not really a word, but an agreeing noise.

Harry picked the snake up with deft fingers and placed her in the terrarium, before he added the stone directly on the ground. Then he placed the lid back on the terrarium and turned to Marcus who was watching attentively. "Let's get you out of your costume." Harry held a hand out to Marcus, who with a last hissing goodbye to the adder walked over to the teenager and took the offered hand.

Together they left the classroom and went out to where all the others were having fun.

ooOoo

Xerxes watched as Marvolo paced up and down in the classroom they had retreated to. Beside an impatient hand sign to follow, causing him to extract himself from a conversation, Marvolo hadn't uttered a word, or indicated in any way what he wanted.

At the moment Xerxes tried to get a sense of if he was standing here watching his Lord pace, or if his friend from school was in need of help. Depending on the answer to this question, Xerxes would have to react differently, act differently. But at the moment he had no idea what the answer might be. So he waited.

"What can I do?" Marvolo suddenly started to speak, clearly not expecting an answer. "I don't think I can do that, be what he needs." Shaking hands raked over a pale face, through previously neat hair. "I can't be… how can I even hope to…"

Xerxes slowly sat down on the desk standing behind him, watching as Marvolo paced in front of the rows of neatly hung children's drawings – mostly snowflakes and snowmen – this looked more and more like a situation where a friend was needed, not one where his Lord needed his service.

"What's wrong, Marvolo? What happened between the moment you walked away to speak with your heir and now? And don't try to claim otherwise, something did happen!" A wave of fear swept through Xerxes as Marvolo whirled around a snarl on his face.

But then the face crumpled from fierce to something vulnerable before Marvolo turned quickly away to look out of the window. "Did you know there is a Parselmouth among your students?" The question was whispered so quietly that Xerxes wasn't quite sure he had heard right.

"A Parselmouth? No?" Xerxes was confused as to how it could be that there was a Parselmouth among his students. And that confusion certainly wasn't only clear as day in his voice, but on his face as well.

Several minutes passed with Marvolo staring out of the window towards the fires and merriment, or pacing up and down while Xerxes tried to pinpoint the one student who would most likely be a descendant of Slytherin. But he didn't get very far.

"I don't think I can be a father, Xerxes. Henry is away at Hogwarts most of the year. He isn't far from being an adult. It just isn't the same…" By now Xerxes was reasonably sure that his friend was suffering from a panic attack. It wasn't anything he hadn't seen before. Men about to become fathers regularly fell into this behaviour. And those that didn't even a little usually had proven themselves as either totally uninterested or terrible fathers.

Before he could form his thoughts into a coherent explanation of why Marvolo would make at least an adequate father, the door opened and Henry Slytherin-Potter walked in. Maybe it would be best to leave, but on the other hand his Lord had wanted his presence. It would be rude to leave, but it was equally rude to stay and listen to what certainly would be a private discussion.

"Here you are, sir. I was searching for you." At Henry's words the Dark Lord stiffened in a way Xerxes had learned to associate with extreme anger. "I brought Marcus to his teacher. What are we going to do now? When will we take him home?"

Xerxes blinked in surprise. Of course the child would go with the Dark Lord, to be with family. Now knowing more than just that one of his students at this school was a Parselmouth, Xerxes started to go through the list of enrolled students under eleven to find the one called Marcus and what he knew of him. Surely his Lord needed to know and would demand to know soon.

"Henry, you're being rash. For all we know… Marcus, is living with loving parents. We can't take a child just because we want to." Marvolo almost sounded dazed, not angry. And Xerxes valiantly tried to concentrate.

"Well, that would be better anyway. Our family would get bigger, not only Marcus, but his parents too." There was a stubborn tone to that reply, and Xerxes had to smirk. That boy certainly had a backbone, Xerxes didn't feel all that confident at the moment.

"Actually," Xerxes interrupted, with a wildly beating heart, "he's an orphan. As far as the foster system had recorded, he has no known father. His mother died from complications in childbirth. There's no other known family. So he has stayed with different foster families until we found him. The last one agreed to let him be adopted into a magical family before they were obliviated. At the time, I didn't anticipate the trouble we would have with the ancestry tests." Xerxes stopped himself from shifting nervously from one foot to the other under the gaze of the two other wizards. It was a little unnerving how alike they looked in their intensity.

Then they suddenly turned to each other and exchanged a few sentences in hissing noises. At least Xerxes assumed that they were talking to each other. It just sounded like insensible hissing to his ears.

"And how do you think this will work, Henry?" Marvolo threw his hands up into the air before resuming his pacing.

"You can hire a nanny. Have the elves help. Eat breakfast with him each day, send him here to school, then work. Be there in the evening asking what he has done the whole day. It's not that hard. You're doing it now!" The teenager had started to pace as well, and Xerxes felt superfluous. But to leave the room he would have to cross the younger wizard's path, bringing attention to himself that he would rather avoid.

Marvolo only gave a snort, and kept pacing.

"We can't just ignore the fact that he belongs to the family. In a few years others will learn about his ability, will recall that we must have known. How will we look then?" The voice of the green-eyed teenager was cutting now, almost mocking. And Xerxes had to give him a point for politically sound thinking. That would be a scandal of epic proportions. "We both know what to avoid, what not to do. And there are people we can ask for help. We can't leave him here!"

Slumping down on a desk – the chairs in this room were too small for an adult to sit comfortably on – Marvolo rubbed one hand over his face. He looked tired. "Getting custody of you was rather easy, Henry. Everyone was still shocked over my sudden reappearance. But doing the same now for a kid that young? Those valiantly against me would mount what forces they can to oppose this adoption. It won't go as smoothly as adopting you was."

Henry nodded, and sat down as well. "Well, it won't be easy then. That's no reason to not do it." Then the boy slid into the hissing sounds of parseltongue again, excluding Xerxes from the discussion which continued for quite some time.

When the Dark Lord turned to Xerxes once again, the older-looking wizard had contemplated how best to leave – he should be out among the guests, not sequestered here in one of the classrooms – just to come to the conclusion that there was no way to leave without possibly drawing his Lord's ire.

"Can you please make sure that Marcus is informed by one of his teachers that he has remote family? Tell him that the fact he can speak to snakes made us realize, because it's a family gift. Ask him if he would be agreeable to meet with us, as we want to get to know him. I'll get my solicitor on the task of preparing everything for an adoption." Xerxes only nodded and bowed. Marvolo sounded resigned, but there still was a spark of something in the man's eyes that Xerxes wasn't used to seeing there.

Uncertainty.

It wasn't something totally new, but since the young boy by the name of Riddle had proved that he was more than a mudblood, Xerxes had never seen it again. Seeing it now made him appear human again. Trying to smile reassuringly without being patronizing, Xerxes made for the door. "I'll do that, and keep you informed."

When Xerxes was once again among all the guests, children and parents, he relaxed. It would be not easy getting Marcus under Marvolo's guardianship, but in the end there was no doubt that the gift of Parseltongue would be enough to sway those that had to decide. Family had the most influence over such decisions, and it was unlikely that that would change anytime soon.

oooOOooo

Albus sat in a quite cosy armchair in the lounge the long-term patients got to use from time to time, contemplating his possibilities.

Yesterday evening he had tried to nick a wand from the medi-witch when she had caught him scouting the hallway. He had learned that the small pockets in the robes were spelled to make sure the wand couldn't be taken out by just anyone. A sensible precaution – some of the people that were treated here shouldn't get their hands on a wand – but annoying for himself, being held here against his will and without reason.

He hadn't had any visitors today, and taking a wand would be discovered quickly, so he needed a solid escape plan before he tried to get his hands on one again.

Maybe he should take another look at the complex magical wards around the door to the ward that were keeping patients in, but which let personnel and the occasional visitor through. Albus had looked into other possible exits and had only found the windows, as the fireplaces weren't connected to the floo network. And even if he was reasonably fit for his age, climbing out of windows and down walls wasn't something he thought he could manage without trouble.

Trying to look casual, Albus got up from his seat, and wandered off, looking at pictures and portraits on the walls, a potted plant that looked to be in dire need of water, and other people sitting around, either reading, playing games, or staring into space.

When he reached the hall and walked slowly in the direction of the door, Albus huffed a breath of relief. If he could manage to look a while at the doors, he might find the conditions that regulated who could pass the door, which would significantly increase his chances of success.

Near the door Albus started to concentrate on the door frame, trying to identify the nexus of the ward barring his exit this way. It was hard doing this without his wand, and silently, as he didn't want to risk drawing attention to what he was doing here.

"Mr. Dumbledore! There you are!" Albus flinched in surprise when the man who claimed to be a healer working for Albus' health spoke up behind him. Turning while trying to come up with a good reason for standing here, Albus placed his grandfatherly smile in place. "Healer Jugson, why were you searching for me? It's late in the evening, but not yet time to go to bed, is it?" He laughed, trying for friendly. "It makes me feel quite young again to have a curfew to be in bed. How may I help you?"

The healer smiled friendly enough, but the fact that two others – a witch and a wizard of big build – were standing just behind the man with concentrated expressions, made Albus wary. "The results of our repeat test have just come in, Mr. Dumbledore. And it seems that the extent you're affected was masked by something during the first test we did. Please come with us, we are moving you into another room. Luckily we caught this in time to adjust your healing plan so you probably will be able to leave not too far into the new year."

Before the healer – certainly one of Tom's people, he just had to be! – had finished his last word, Albus tried to run for the door. Another room? Adjustment to the healing plan? That couldn't mean anything good! But before he had reached the wards he was struck by a spell and everything went dark.

oooOOooo

It was infuriating! Normally Fenrir didn't tend to use such big words, but the current situation needed big words. There was no other way to express his anger and even come close to the real enormity of his feelings.

He was pacing here, the cracked and dirty floorboards groaning under his steps, in a ramshackle rundown hut, when he should be living in one of those manors that the wizards had built only for themselves.

With a growl that exposed only the tips of the fangs he had fashioned out of his canines so he would look more like his true self even in this inferior form, Fenrir turned to the hapless fool sitting on the faded armchair. "So you have lost another one? How is it that suddenly all of our people run away?" But Fenrir already knew the answer.

Slytherin.

His influence on the Wizengamot and the laws was eroding the ground Fenrir had build his pack on. Now the laws were changing and the members of the pack suddenly had other opportunities.

"Rob said he didn't need – or want – our help any longer. His brother offered him a job on their small farm. They grow and gather potions stuff. I think." Ted shrugged, his faded robes sliding with the motion.

With another growl Fenrir turned sharply on his heel, walking in the other direction. This wasn't good, in fact it was catastrophic. The people were leaving, his pack shrinking. And they had half a month until the moon would be full again. Much too late to act against that bastard Slytherin, or the cowards that abandoned him for the prospect of acceptance by wizards. However shaky that acceptance would be. Again turning, dust falling down from the ceiling, Fenrir sought an escape from the dilemma he was in.

The Aurors were hunting them down, obviously knowing all of their older hideouts. Most likely the doing of Slytherin. Again.

The more intelligent and flexible wolves were deserting him and their cause, leaving for the continent, or finding shelter with wizards like common mutts. Leaving Fenrir only with those wolves who had no other options, or had been with him since they had been cubs. Sadly, not one of them knew much magic, or any at all, leaving them without options outside the transformation on the nights of the full moon.

The fact that everyone whom he wanted to hurt most was behind strong wards only added to his problems. And the so-called suicide-through-poison Yaxley had suffered. Well, there was no way that had been suicide or an accident. It clearly had been a message to the remaining Death Eaters. Who dared to even set one toe out of line was to suffer death, or worse. So it was unlikely that Fenrir would get help from those who shared his taste for fear and torture.

Without stopping in his pacing, Fenrir searched for a way to secure his position, to instil the fear of werewolves back into those pathetic witches and wizards.

He kept pacing until late that night without finding a shred of moonlight.

oooOOooo

With a sigh Marvolo slumped into the armchair in front of the fireplace in the living room at Griffin House. What a day this had been.

When he had thought about possible further Slytherin descendants, then he had thought about a slim possibility of finding an adult, or someone who had already died. Never even once had the thought crossed his mind that there might be a child he would have to take in.

And that was exactly the situation they were in now. They had to take Marcus in, just as Henry had said. It wouldn't work out any other way. If there was any way to avoid it… but there wasn't and it would be best when Marvolo stopped searching for a way to avoid the inevitable. If they didn't start with attempts to adopt Marcus right now, the moment they noticed he existed, that could be something their enemies could use against them.

Marvolo wasn't convinced that they would be able to adopt Marcus without problems, but Henry's fierce words had helped him realize that there were fewer obstacles there than he had feared.

Slowly shaking his head in remembrance, he got up again to fetch himself a tumbler of firewhiskey. Henry's claim that he would testify in favour of Marvolo so he would be able to adopt Marcus. The exact wording Henry had used still was bouncing around in Marvolo's head. That the fact that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the way Marvolo acted as a guardian was one of the things Henry had the most trouble with. That Henry had wanted to hate him in the beginning but couldn't keep doing that because he suddenly had what he always had wished for, someone who cared.

Marvolo could relate, and that fact terrified him. It was right up there on his list of terrifying thoughts of the day, next to being responsible for a boy only five years old.

He really didn't feel capable of that, and wasn't that a first. He had never thought that he couldn't do something. If he had to guess, he would say that was pretty normal for the average human, but since his childhood he never would have called himself average in anything.

Slowly sipping on his drink, staring into the flickering flames, he contemplated whether it would be a good idea to visit with Madame Goyle soon. He couldn't keep taking strong calming draughts every day for the rest of his time. As he had done today.

oooOOooo

AN: I know some of you dread the addition of another Parselmouth. But I thought about it and feel it's unrealistic to not have more parselmouths around somewhere. If Lily Evans was a descendant from Slytherin, there have to be others.

Furthermore I needed a way to clearly show how much Marvolo is changing and I didn't want to invent something that would throw him and Harry back in their development for that purpose. Developing plot in such a way mostly only feels frustrating for me when I read it, I can't bear to write something like that. ;) And besides that I love the idea of "big brother Harry" so I hope you'll roll with it and see where it takes the story

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

First published on the 2nd of March 2018

Next chapter planned for 16th of March 2018