AN: Thank you all for your lovely comments and reviews! I read each and everyone of them more than once finding inspiration and motivation in them whenever I have trouble to get into the flow of writing!
Wednesday, 27th of December
With a groan Harry stepped out of his shower to towel himself dry. Apparently standing around, walking, and dancing used muscles flying on a broom didn't, because he was stiff all over. The hot shower had helped, and it was likely that Marvolo would have a muscle relaxant potion at hand, which would take care of all the rest of the tension.
That thought stopped Harry in the door from his bath to his bedroom, momentarily dumbfounded. When had magic become so normal? Before this he would just have lived with the small aches. He had done that thousands of times after a hard day tending to the garden at Privet Drive. Living with magic constantly around him and so casually used – outside of a classroom setting – seemed to be having a slow effect on his perception of it.
As there was no function Harry needed to attend today, he slipped into one of his simpler trousers, and tossed on a sweater, and a casual robe.
A few steps brought him to the easel standing next to his desk. Harry carefully removed the cover to take a look at what he had done so far. The painting looked good, even a day later. So Harry guessed he had managed to finish it in time to give it to Marvolo on the man's birthday.
Once he had covered the painting, Harry strode from the room, a big smile on his face. Today was the day he would visit the Burrow and Ron.
As usual, Marvolo was already seated at the table, reading the paper, a cup with steaming tea standing right on top of his plate.
"Good morning!" Harry yawned. When one was host of an event, there was no way to leave early. It had been a late night.
"Good morning, Henry," Marvolo greeted with a slightly distracted tone.
"Anything interesting?" Harry sat down, smiled as a fresh cup of coffee appeared next to his plate, and started to place his favourite foods on his plate. He quickly downed the nutrition potion – hopefully he would be rid of that soon – and started to eat.
"Nothing new. But I hadn't expected anything interesting. I hope you remember that Healer Greengrass will be here after breakfast. He needs to repeat the diagnostics to see if you still need to take the nutrition potion."
Harry groaned. He had totally forgotten about that. "But that will take ages." Harry knew he was whining, but he didn't really care. He couldn't go over to the Burrow and meet with Ron when he had to sit still and wait while the myriad of diagnostic spells was cast.
Marvolo chuckled. "The ritual wouldn't take as much time. You're the one who decided to insist on charms for the diagnostics, Henry."
Harry frowned. He remembered that conversation. A ritual that was quicker than the method currently used by the Healers in St. Mungo's. And as far as he now understood, the only reason the ritual wasn't taught anymore was because rituals were considered conspicuous. Too close to the dangerous magics that were forbidden to be used comfortably. Most patients wouldn't consent to be part of a ritual when there was another way.
Harry had taken part in a ritual for Aiden's adoption, he had been part of the ritual to check if he was a horcrux. He would be part of another one to remove Marvolo's soul fragment from him.
Would it be really that bad? And it would be quicker, making it possible for him to go over to the Weasleys' earlier.
"Can you explain the diagnostic ritual to me?" Harry didn't look in Marvolo's direction but busied himself with buttering a slice of toast. It was hard to admit – however indirectly – that he might had been wrong in the summer to reject the diagnostic ritual. And on the other hand, he couldn't have known then what he knew now.
"I'm no expert on healing magic, or healing rituals. But Malcolm surely will be happy to explain whatever you want to know." Marvolo didn't look in Harry's direction – Harry peeked to make sure – feigning interest in an article of the Daily Prophet.
Harry was grateful that Marvolo had such a good sense of situations and was willing to make it easy for Harry to change his mind. Someone like Draco, or Snape – or rather the way they had been before Harry had been adopted – would have rubbed it in. Gloating wasn't the best tactic for such a thing. Marvolo was a really good politician, something that Harry needed to learn, but at the same time the older wizard was willing to tell Harry the truth, something he really appreciated.
Malcolm had brought his complete healer's bag at his Lord's insistence. And now that he was explaining the ritual to his Lord's heir, he was glad that he had done so.
The boy was listening attentively and looked as if he would accept the ritual, because he wanted to cut down on the time he would need to spend here. Wishing to be with his friends seemed to be a good motivator to reassess his prejudices.
"Any more questions, heir Slytherin-Potter?" Malcolm waited patiently, watching thoughts racing behind those green eyes, hidden behind those glasses that could be superfluous if the boy just would be willing to take the potion to correct his vision.
But the Dark Lord had made it clear that his adopted son was the one in charge of decisions concerning his own body if there was no inevitable reason that action was needed. An approach which seemed to be working so far.
While the teenager vanished behind a screen to change into the white linen tunic, Malcolm started getting out his supplies, and setting up what he could before his patient was in place in the middle of the circle to be set up.
"Please lie there." Malcolm indicated the padded-table-like piece of furniture he had brought and unshrunk in the middle of the small room they were using.
The teen walked over barefooted, sat down, and then carefully maneuvered himself into a lying position, looking positively awkward.
With careful hands Malcolm removed the glasses from the teenager's nose, internally rolling his eyes that the boy still insisted on wearing them when there was such an easy way to get rid of them for good. After that he started with the ritual.
While chanting the words – sounding remarkably like old Gaelic, which he didn't speak one word of – that repeated after a few verses, Malcolm carefully took one rune stone after another and placed them on the body resting before him. One went to the middle of the forehead, one right over the heart. Another two he placed onto the hands which were turned palms up. Placing three rune stones on each leg was not as easy, as balancing them wasn't simple there. Malcolm carefully kept to the order needed, and kept pace, coordinating placing the stones with the words he was speaking.
When he moved on to placing the candles around the teenager, the boy was breathing deeply, as if in sleep. Earlier this year such a situation hardly would have been possible. The boy had been much too suspicious to relax that far in Malcolm's care.
Carefully lighting the candles placed in a circle around the table, Malcolm walked in measured steps until he reached the place where he had started, right next to a small stone table with a piece of parchment and a never-empty quill set up ready to be used.
The last step was to link the ritual with a quill and parchment to record what was about to be discovered. With a few precise gestures Malcolm did just that, and then sat down on a stool monitoring the procedure.
It wouldn't take long, but as his Master during his time training to be a healer had always said, one couldn't leave a patient unsupervised even when conducting a ritual that had been done a thousand times. There always was the chance that something unexpected might happen. Life and magic were just unpredictable like that.
While he watched the quill moving over the parchment, Malcolm contemplated that in the earliest version, the patient would have been totally unclothed, and the runes would have been drawn onto their skin with some paints created in a painstakingly complicated process. Studying the history of healing was always entertaining, and interesting at the same time. Despite his fascination for the history of his craft, Malcolm was happy that some things had changed and developed. Most patients nowadays would be much too embarrassed to get totally nude, even for their healer.
"We are finished. Please don't move while I dismantle the circle." The candles were quickly extinguished, the stones quickly gathered. It was obvious that the boy was no longer in a trance, as green eyes watched every move Malcolm made.
Once the last stone had been removed and placed back in the small velvet pouch the teenager sat up. "What's the verdict?" There was worry, curiosity, and apprehension mixed in that gaze.
"Let me have a look." Malcolm snatched up the parchment and looked at the runes scribbled onto the parchment. Learning to read those had been the hardest part of learning this ritual. "It looks like all those old breaks are doing rather well. Since we set them straight, the bones have continued to get stronger. The damage done by poor nutrition over a long time has been mostly removed as well. I think we can give up the nutrition and healing potions. But we'll have to check again in a few months, and I will give you instructions as to what you should eat. The house-elves at Hogwarts are accommodating when it comes to making sure the students get what they need."
"Is that why there are never any nuts near where Fay Dunbar sits at the Gryffindor table? She's allergic to them, as far as I know," the young man butted in, sounding curious, visibly cheered by the verdict, as he had called it.
Malcolm nodded. "It is indeed." With another glance at the parchment, he came to the conclusion that his patient was in pretty good health, all things considered. "Besides your eyesight, there's nothing else that would need addressing at this point in time. Have you any questions for me, heir Slytherin-Potter?"
Much too quickly to be believable, the boy shook his head, and scurried away to return behind the screen when Malcolm answered to that with a friendly, "If that's the case, you can dress. I'll search out your father to relay the news."
Without waiting for the boy to be finished with dressing, Malcolm packed the last things into his bag before leaving the room, closing the door behind himself with an almost inaudible click. The Dark Lord would be happy to hear that his son had agreed to the ritual and that it had shown that their efforts in healing the boy had borne fruit.
Being able to help one of his patients always left Malcolm with a content feeling of accomplishment. For once he didn't feel even a thread of dread while walking to meet with the Dark Lord.
"You have your portkey? And you know when to be back?" Marvolo felt nervous for reasons he couldn't really pin down. Why ever should he be nervous about sending his son over to a day visiting with friends? Henry had been over to the Burrow more than once, had stayed part of his holidays there. They even had allowed Marvolo onto their property for Henry's birthday party. All evidence pointed to the fact that Henry would be safe with his friends.
So why was he so nervous?
"Yes,Mum," the word was heavy with sarcasm, but for some unfathomable reason, it made Marvolo's heart stutter. "I have everything and know when to be back. I'm not venturing out into the Forbidden Forest. I'm only visiting with friends."
Marvolo swallowed and applauded himself silently in his own mind for the fact that his answer came out sounding perfectly normal. "Then don't forget the presents for your hosts, and make sure to be home on time. Have fun and extend my thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. Off you go!"
With a grin Henry snatched up the two presents and moved over to the floo, where he struggled a moment with the items until he had a hand free to reach for the floo powder.
With a bouquet of flowers, an expensive bottle of wine, and the distinct feeling of being ridiculous, Harry used the floo to go over to the Burrow.
He still was a little bemused over Marvolo's behaviour, when he stepped out of the fireplace to come to stand in the warm and cosy home of the Weasley clan.
"Harry, dear, please come in!" Mrs. Weasley bustled in from the kitchen a warm, welcoming smile on her face. "Kids! Harry's here!" She bellowed into the room, sure to alert everyone up to the attic about Harry's arrival.
Before the motherly witch could get a hold of Harry to smother him with a hug, Harry thrust the presents towards her. He had no desire to be squashed alongside a bunch of flowers and a bottle of wine. "Thank you for your hospitality. I hope your family had a nice Christmas."
"Why, thank you, Harry. We had a great time. All kids home for Christmas. It doesn't happen nearly often enough, now that Bill and Charlie are all grown up and out of the house!" She accepted both gifts and moved her nose over the bouquet, breathing deeply. "What lovely flowers! Go on up. Ron's probably still in his room, sleeping. You can go wake him."
Before Harry had a chance to react to her suggestion, Mrs. Weasley had already left for the kitchen, murmuring something about finding a vase to place the flowers in.
With a shrug Harry turned to the stairs and started to walk up their creaking length and past the rooms of the others. The twins' door was closed, a sign warning not to enter and the sounds coming from behind the door convincing Harry that he could greet the twins at a later time. The other rooms he came across were either empty, or had the doors closed, so Harry couldn't be sure if someone was inside. When he finally reached Ron's room, the snoring coming from inside made him grin. Ron obviously was taking advantage of the opportunity to sleep in over the holidays.
Quickly opening the door so it slammed into the wall covered in quidditch posters of the Chudley Cannons, Harry strode into the room with heavy steps, calling out in a cheerful tone, "Wake up, Ron. Come on, it's time to eat!"
A low unhappy growling sound came from the mound of blankets that were hiding Ron on his bed. Harry laughed and picked his way through the stuff littering the room's floor. It was a good thing house-elves cleaned the student's dormitories, otherwise there would be a lot of accidents due to students tripping over the stuff on the floor.
"Come on, Ron. I'm sure you don't want to miss out on the breakfast your mother is keeping warm in the kitchen." Harry felt a grin stretch his face, and his good humour was easily noticed in the teasing tone of his voice.
"Harry?" a bleary-eyed Ron sat up, peeking up from just beneath his blanket. "You're early."
Harry laughed. "I don't think so. Even had a healer appointment before I came here. No, you're sleeping in late."
Harry could pinpoint the moment when the realization that Harry was there had made it through the haze of sleep to Ron's mind. Suddenly his friend was awake, bolting out of bed, searching the floor for clothes.
"Did you bring a warm robe? We could go flying. I'm sure you can borrow a broom from one of my brothers. You know they're all here? It's sad that you have so many stuffy parties to go to."
With a permanent grin on his face, Harry listened to his friend prattling on while he searched for something to wear, putting the articles of clothing on as he found them. It felt almost the same as before Harry had been adopted by someone Ron couldn't stand. Maybe the rocky parts of the way were behind them.
They made their way down to the kitchen together, tossing ideas for the day back and forth, when Ginny stepped out of her room, just to stop in her tracks the moment she saw them on their way to breakfast.
"Good morning, Ginny," Harry greeted with a smile, and then frowned when the red-headed girl turned on her heel, walked back into her room, and closed the door with some force.
Bewildered, Harry turned to his friend, who only shrugged. "Don't ask me, mate. I don't understand girls. But she's been in a tiff for some time now. No idea what happened. The last time she was this morose, the twins had sheared the hair of her favourite doll completely off. Mum magicked it back, of course, but she was plotting revenge for a while."
Seeing that his friend didn't want to discuss his sister and her strange behaviour, Harry let the topic drop.
Did Ginny still fancy him? He dearly hoped not. Even though he had noticed girls with a much greater frequency, his friend's little sister didn't make the list. She was pretty – there was no doubt about that – and he was fond of her. But more like she was his sister as well, not like he wanted to take her on a date. Cho Chang – the Ravenclaw seeker – was of greater interest to him, or even Daphne. Even though it couldn't lead to anything serious between them, she had appeared a few times in his vague and confusing dreams.
A few of those charms from the book Marvolo had given him for his birthday, and which had made its rounds through the dorm by now, really came in handy when he was woken by some of those dreams. It would be too embarrassing to get out of bed to clean himself up. Even with a room to himself.
"Harry! How nice that you could come! Let that sluggard eat, we want to show you something." The twins had come down too, looking excited, both obviously eager to talk to their silent partner.
A quick glance at Ron assured that his friend had no problem with Harry talking to Fred and George while he devoted all his attention to his breakfast of scrambled eggs, hash browns, sausages and grilled vegetables. So Harry followed the twins over to a corner of the living room where Mrs. Weasley wasn't likely to spot them and sat down.
"The logo you sketched for us is great, Harry. We've been searching for something like this for a while. Look, we made a few packaging mockups, have changed a few of our older designs. What do you think?" Pieces of cardboard, parchment, and even a few boxes were pulled from various pockets and held in Harry's direction.
The colours were glaringly bright, but as all the stuff was prank material for children, that was exactly the right choice. Soon they were deep into a discussion over what the best packagings would be, and what they needed to include in warnings on the outside. Harry laughed and soon had forgotten all about Ginny's strange behaviour.
On his way back from the loo and to the kitchen, where they had commandeered the table to build a card house from several decks of Exploding Snap cards, Harry suddenly found himself cornered by Ginny.
An angry-looking Ginny, her eyes sparking dangerously.
While he tried to keep a calm and friendly façade, Harry's mind was furiously going over all their interactions in recent times to find the reason for her anger. But he came up blank.
"Can I help you?" He needed to remind himself that he was capable of defending himself, but the fact that she was really good with some of the nastier hexes they had trained with in the defence club made it harder not to flee to where the others would be witnessing their discussion.
"How could you ask a Slytherin girl to those balls? You could have asked me! I would have loved to spend more time with you. Vicky and Isobel were sure you would at least invite me to the Ball at Potter Manor!" She clearly was distraught and angry, sweeping gestures only accentuating her obvious agitation. "Am I too poor for you all of a sudden? Vicky explained that you clearly had to be careful to not make my older brothers angry at you. They are very protective. And the way you dismissed Romilda made clear that younger girls aren't interesting for you. But how could you ask that Slytherin ice princess bitch?"
Well, it seemed as if those two girls – Vicky and Isobel – had fanned the flames of the crush Harry had hoped was finally dying back into a roaring flame. That was an awkward situation he now was in. He needed to make clear that Ginny probably never would be his girlfriend – or even more – but without hurting her feelings. She was still the little sister of Ron, and the twins. And despite that crush, he liked her.
"First, Daphne asked me, not I her. And I had dancing lessons with her this summer. Going through all those events with the pressure to make a good first impression on the whole society… I'm happy she's there to help me navigate all the possible pitfalls. And if she hadn't asked me, I probably would have asked Hermione." Harry took a quick breath, eager to continue to speak before Ginny could start on an even longer rant. Once she got going, it was almost impossible to stop her. "I like you, Ginny. But only like a sister, nothing more. And there is no other reason to that than the fact that I just feel for you what I feel for Hermione. Where she is like an older sister, constantly nagging at me to study more, you're like the little sister one can play quidditch with. I know neither Vicky nor Isobel, so how did you come to the conclusion that they would be able to interpret my feelings?" Ginny's face was assuming a steadily darker expression and Harry felt his heart beating faster and faster. "I hope nothing I did projected an illusion of feelings I've never held. You're a beautiful, intelligent witch, Ginny, but I would never date my sister."
Before Harry could make the situation any worse – why was speaking with furious witches not part of his training? – Ron's head poked around the corner into the corridor the two of them were standing in. "Harry, what's taking you so long? Hermione and Luna arrived just a moment ago, and we want to start building. Do you want to take part too, Ginny?"
It was a miracle to Harry that Ron hadn't heard a word of what his sister and friend had been speaking about, because Ron simply wasn't that good an actor.
Harry had just turned to answer Ron in the affirmative, when Ginny huffed and stormed away. The eyes of both boys met and with two shrugs of confusion they moved to the kitchen where Harry greeted both Hermione and Luna with warm hugs. He felt really happy about seeing Luna here so unexpectedly. She always was a refreshing presence with her unique outlook on the world.
The laughter and sounds of explosions soon filled the kitchen, while the older Weasleys were sitting over in the living room talking. It was a nice morning, and when Mrs. Weasley came into the kitchen to banish them so she could prepare lunch, they went outside to play with the snow and to fly around the trees in the orchard. Not one of them had seen even a glimpse of Ginny, and Harry was glad to be able to avoid this particular mess for a little longer.
Wearing some of his best robes, Marvolo confidently walked through the Ministry, the crowds parting before him as Moses allegedly had parted the Red Sea. It was a curious thing when one of those seemingly long-forgotten titbits of muggle sayings and metaphors made a re-appearance. Was there a story in the wizarding myths that had a similar setting? Someone parting a body of water for their people? Maybe he would find an opportunity to research it… later. Because if there was, the possibility of it really happening in some fashion would be more likely.
Smirking to himself, Marvolo shook his head. He was in a curious mood. Elated over the progress that had made Henry accept the ritual for diagnostic purposes, and nervous over the prospect of seeking the adoption of young Marcus. Xerxes had relayed that the boy rarely was seen without his snake plushie since he had received it at Christmas and that the boy often asked one of the caretakers to read him a story from his book. But it was hard to find a few hours to spend with the child in the packed schedule of the holiday season.
Reaching the door of Mrs. Wisby's office, Marvolo knocked decisively. A sunny "Come in!" was his answer. This woman was really extraordinary cheerful. In a way it was refreshing to see someone smiling so happily who was old enough to have suffered under the war he had started and remember it clearly to this day.
Pasting a smile on his face – he needed a holiday from all the festivities – Marvolo opened the door and stepped into the chaotic office. "Mrs. Wisby, hello. I hope that you can spare a moment of your time for a request I have."
"Lord Slytherin!" She quickly stood from her chair, a smile on her face, both hands extended in his direction in greeting. "How nice to see you!" Quickly a worried frown settled on her face. "There's nothing wrong with the adoption, is there?"
Sensing a long, worried rant starting, Marvolo quickly shook his head with a reassuring smile. "No, don't worry, Henry is fine and there's nothing wrong with his adoption. In fact, I'm here because we have come across another member of our scattered family whom we wish to take care of."
And as quick as lightning the blinding smile was back on Mrs. Wisby's face. "Oh, that's wonderful! In that school that Lord Lestrange founded last autumn? I have to say I love the idea, but it caused quite a stir in the Departments having any connections to families, inheritance, and the like." Marvolo watched, mesmerized, as the witch walked around the office, expertly dodging the many piles without so much as stirring a single piece of parchment. He briefly wondered if shifting one of the piles even a fraction of an inch to the side would be enough to trip her up.
He didn't pay all that much attention to her prattling on about the different happy stories of families coming back together, when a sudden shift in her tone and body language made him snap out of his musings. "Oh, I almost forgot. The change in procedure is so recent… We'll need to make sure the child really has the family gift, and there needs to be an evaluation that the child will be well with you…" Mrs. Wisby clearly was flustered and confused, not used to following a new procedure after long years of doing things one specific way.
"How did that come to be?" Marvolo tried for curious, but at ease. He had his suspicions that the fact he had managed to adopt Harry Potter had caused this drastic shift in policy, but didn't want to give himself away so easily.
"Adoptions weren't all that common in the past. Well, with the exception of war orphans going to close family. But with Lord Lestrange getting the magical children without proper family that lived with muggles into our community, the demand was expected to go up." She wandered over to a table to the side stacked with several books, lose parchment, and scrolls. "So the normal process came under scrutiny. And someone aware of how the muggles do things like this, pointed out that we had no methods to decide who would get custody if more than one family wanted to claim a child without as obvious a proof as a well-known family gift. Or to be sure that the family taking in the child would treat them well. I fear I'm not yet familiar with all the details." She started to pick through the paperwork on the desk, clearly in search for something specific.
It made sense to change the procedure for adoption. Memories of situations came to Marvolo's mind, scenes of yelling matches between Tobias Snape and his wife Eileen, a small boy running to hide from his father. Scenes of a small boy watching how his mother Walburga punished his bigger brother for daring to be sorted anywhere but Slytherin. Some parents didn't even manage to treat their own children with decency. Making sure a child going to a new family would be treated well seemed like the right thing to do.
In theory it was a good idea, but it was inconvenient. In fact, such measures hadn't been enacted till now because all those who might pass a measure like this thought the same. One day such rules might get in their way, so they all preferred the rules missing. The fact that someone had made sure to enact them now meant only one thing: someone had more to gain by making adoptions harder than by leaving the rules lax, ensuring fewer problems in the future if they should wish to adopt at a later time.
But who would gain from that? He would alert Xerxes, Lucius and the others to those changes. They had been enacted so quietly that they all had missed their addition. They would have to reassess their plans in light of those changes.
Only one thing was relatively certain. The Headmaster hadn't had anything to do with this. Severus' reports had indicated that the Headmaster had concentrated on getting Henry back under his influence. The old man hadn't the interest to care about other children, his past clearly showed how little the Headmaster really cared about the individual needs of his students.
There was nothing for it: he would need to go along with this new set of rules. At least in the open, his current persona wouldn't permit anything else. "Well, then I guess we'll need to figure things out together. Won't we?"
Mrs. Wisby smiled, exclaiming in joy, "There it is!" when she found what she had been searching for, and walked back over to her desk. "There are two separate things that need to be done, proving that the child you wish to adopt really is a part of your family, and passing the evaluation."
Marvolo slowly nodded and got his wand out. With a casual flick he had conjured himself a nice stool to sit on – there really wasn't enough space for anything else – and sat down so he could speak with Mrs. Wisby more comfortably. "And to whom do I need to prove that I'm a decent parent and that Marcus is a member of the Slytherin family?"
A bemused look came to her face. "I'm not sure."
Marvolo groaned inwardly. It was a good thing Henry was with his friends today. This might take a while.
He had managed to gather quite the force. Not all of them were werewolves, but they all were unhappy with Lord Slytherin and the man's actions. He had hoped to wait for the next full moon, but he just knew that it would be too late by that point.
So here they were.
The silhouette of the patched-up house against the sky with the barely visible waxing moon clearly marked their target. It wasn't as close as he had wished to strike, but the Weasley family were a well known fixture in Harry Potter's life and therefore as close to Lord Slytherin as he could manage in the time he had and with the resources at his disposal.
"I'll break the wards. Stevens, take those good at offensive spells and place them around the perimeter. Keep an eye on the windows and the doors. If they try to flee or get too close to one of those, target them. No prisoners! Kill them all." He turned to the smaller group holding beater-bats, knives, and other weapons of that kind. "Make sure to attack everyone who comes close enough. Get them down, take their wands, kill them. Any more questions?"
Shuffling and shaking heads were his only answer. Fenrir nodded. "You'll see when the wards fall, or someone comes out of the house. That's the signal to start attacking. Go!"
Harry and Luna stood outside of the Burrow near some of the trees in the orchard, looking on an enchanting sight. Before they had gone inside for tea, they had left various fruits – dried cherries, fresh apples and pears – out there as an offering to the fairies, and it had worked. Now the air above the fruits was filled with the high pitched chattering of fairies.
Harry wasn't sure if one could call it chattering when the beings didn't actually speak, but it sure sounded the same as a conversation between humans did if you were far enough away not to be able to make out any actual words.
"Aren't they pretty?" Luna asked in a dreamy voice, rubbing her arms under her pretty but rather thin cloak.
"Yes, they make interesting patterns when they're quarrelling about which of them get to eat the cherries. It looks as if those are their favourites, don't you think?" They had made their escape when Fred and George had pulled a prank on Ginny, turning her hair and skin a glaring shade of purple.
With a frown, Harry watched Luna shiver in the cold, for a moment distracted from the colourful and lively display of the little winged creatures. "Come, we can share my cloak," he offered, already opening the fastenings. The cloak was made out of an excess amount of warm silken-velvet fabric, covered in embroidery of different kinds of leaves.
"Thank you, Harry. That's a good idea. Did you know that sharing warmth can save your life when two or more people are snowed in and have to survive in a hollow dug into a snow-drift?"
Blinking at the cheerful manner she shared this observation, Harry slung his cloak over her shoulders, placing his arm around her so the fabric would stay put. It was really nice standing so close to her. And it had been a good idea: he could feel her shivering. Hopefully now they could stay a little while longer. With the moon getting bigger, the light wasn't blinding, reflected from the snow, but cast everything in a nice glow.
They stood there in companionable silence when something caught Harry's attention. Startled, and with his hand on his wand, Harry turned his head slightly. Had there been someone? It had been too big to have been a bird, or a fairy. He suddenly felt on edge, looking around carefully. It felt a little like when Dudley and his gang had crept up on him in breaks at school.
"I think there are people walking along the edge of the wards," Luna suddenly said, without taking her eyes off the dancing fairies, her tone free of any worry. She simply was stating a fact. Sometimes her quirks baffled Harry. Hermione wouldn't have sounded as calm, she would have been intense, or would sound urgent when there was a possible threat near.
"I think we should go back inside. Warn the others," Harry stated, trying to stay as calm as Luna. If there truly was danger near, they shouldn't alert whoever was out there to the fact they had been spotted. It would give them an advantage.
Strolling back to the house, unhurried and arm in arm, still sharing a cloak, Luna and Harry took their time. But Harry was tense, his wand in his hand, ready to cast a shield should something head their way. Even now, with the threat of Voldemort gone, his senses were screaming at him that there was danger. And it always had served him well to heed the warnings his instincts were sending him.
"Harry, Luna, there you are!" They were greeted enthusiastically by Mrs. Weasley once they had stepped into the kitchen. "Want some hot chocolate?" She was grinning at the two of them but Harry really didn't have time to puzzle out her reason for beaming at them. Harry quickly let his cloak fall onto one of the chairs, turning to see if Mr. Weasley was anywhere near.
"We've seen movement around the wards. I think there are people out there, and it doesn't feel as if they have anything good planned." Harry noticed that he was sounding slightly out of breath and maybe a tad hysterical. But he did fear that his and Luna's observation wouldn't be taken seriously.
"Now, Harry, don't be silly." Molly chided. "Are you sure it wasn't just a deer, or maybe a big bird?" Mrs. Weasley had such an indulgent tone, paired with a fond smile, that she seriously confused Harry.
"That was no animal, Mrs. Weasley." Luna said sure of herself, as all the people currently in the house came into the kitchen to hear what was being discussed.
Before the oldest witch present could say more, Bill interrupted her, gaze intent. "Can you tell how many? And where?"
Glad that for once there was an adult actually listening – Marvolo had done a good job of that too, but that wasn't true for most adults in Harry's experience – Harry turned to the curse-breaker to answer the question. "Not sure, it felt like more than three. But we were standing near the orchard, there could be more."
Suddenly the heads of Arthur, Molly, and the two eldest sons snapped up, all looking in the same direction. "Looks like you two are right," Arthur stated getting out his wand, just as the twins, Bill, Charlie, and Mrs. Weasley did the same.
"Everyone up the stairs," Mrs. Weasley directed, clearly only speaking to the younger people present. Hermione followed the instruction the moment it was given, Ron and Ginny looked ready to object, and Harry felt his own Gryffindor side rearing its head. He didn't want to go and hide like a little kid!
"The outer ward is down," Mr. Weasley stated, cold and concentrated, unlike Harry had ever seen him.
"They'll be surprised by the inner wards then," Bill said with a predatory grin that was echoed by his brother Charlie.
Suddenly the light of spells hitting a ward shone through windows of all sides of the house, reflecting off walls so they were visible in the kitchen. That spurred everyone into action.
Quickly Harry and the others were in Ginny's room, where there was a sturdy tree near the house which would allow them an escape route should they need it. Then Mrs. Weasley left again, admonishing them to "Stay here and out of the way!" before closing the door.
Harry didn't like the situation one bit, looking on the worried faces of Ginny, Luna, and Hermione, he felt the need to do something. Anything! But at the same time he knew getting down and into the thick of things wouldn't help. The others were competent, knew more spells than Harry had learned yet, and would be distracted by his presence.
Ron had crept over to the window, carefully casting a look outside. "Looks like the wards are holding up. Bill did a good job." Suddenly a bright flash of light struck those wards just in front of the window, making Ron retreat with a muttered curse.
Looked like the window was no viable way to escape. Hopefully no one was going to set the house on fire.
Then suddenly Harry was struck by an idea. Marvolo. If he were here, they would have a much better chance to overwhelm the attackers. Harry was sure this couldn't be anyone under his adoptive father's command, but everyone willing to attack an entire family was prone to be afraid of him.
Harry gripped his wand tighter and concentrated on a happy memory. The first that came to mind was Marvolo and him sitting next to the Christmas tree unwrapping packages and animatedly speaking about what was revealed. His first proper family Christmas with his very own family. When he spoke the words his Patronus easily shot out of his wand, bounding around the room. When the stag came to a halt in front of Harry, he gave the animal a message for Marvolo, ignoring Hermione berating him for his use of magic outside of school.
"Lay off, Hermione. I think that was a pretty good idea, and no one will berate him for sending a message to get help."
Hermione huffed, annoyed. After that they all sat there, listening anxiously for any and all signs of what was happening outside.
For quite some time now, Marvolo had been using the techniques for meditation and Occlumency to keep calm. After Mrs. Wisby had helped him with filling in the required forms – he had done them once but bureaucracy had a tendency to make no sense and was hard to remember correctly – they had tried to determine which person or department was responsible for the assessment of the family, and the acknowledgement of the family claim. They had even gotten out the actual text of the laws governing adoptions. But the text itself was vague.
It only stated that the government had to make sure that children to be adopted went to close family whenever possible, and that the future guardians needed to be acceptable. Acceptable!
What an easy law to exploit. Because of the vague way the law was worded, there never was Wizengamot involvement when someone decided to change the procedure for an adoption. It was infuriating, and good to know. Maybe he could manage to get someone into a position where the way adoptions were handled came under his own influence.
But currently he was standing on the floor where most of the different divisions of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement were located, listening in while members of different divisions got into a steadily more and more heated discussion.
"I don't see why the Improper Use of Magic Office should oversee adoptions! We make sure no one misuses magic! How does adoption factor into that? The Wizengamot Administration Services oversee all legal matters, they can make sure all proper steps are taken." The wizard speaking for the office monitoring the trace looked smug.
"We might be responsible for court dates, hearings, and things like that, but we never had anything to do with adoptions. That's not something the Wizengamot is ever involved in! Why should we be bogged down with even more work?" The wizard in his ill-fitting robes gave a pointed glare to all standing nearby. "I think the Administrative Registration Department should do this, they are the ones keeping track of our population. They are most likely to know if some kid belongs to one family or the other."
Marvolo rolled his eyes. If this kept up, they never would find a way to make this adoption work. He really needed to know who had managed to sabotage all and every adoption by this ingenious use of administrative pitfalls. The person either needed to die or be recruited. Maybe ruining their reputation would be enough.
"Just because we have the animagus registration doesn't mean we should keep track of adoptions. You know that most kids that are adopted either have close family in our community or none at all…" Marvolo looked up from the red faces and angry gestures when he noticed a person stepping into the corridor between the different divisions. Madame Bones was walking towards the escalating discussion, a look of annoyed anger on her face. It looked like one of the Aurors currently on duty had informed her of this… disaster.
When her accusing gaze fell onto Marvolo he held up his hands in an imitation of surrender, shaking his head. He hadn't had anything to do with this. Well, he had asked a question, but that had been all. "I just asked who was conducting the new steps needed in an adoption process. How was I to know that it isn't clear whose job it is?" Marvolo shrugged and kept a smile off his face at the annoyed sigh the formidable witch gave to that.
Before she could start sorting everything out, everyone's attention was drawn by the silvery shine of a patronus breaking through the far wall, heading in their direction.
"That's Henry's patronus." Marvolo murmured suddenly feeling as if he was about to go into battle.
The stag came to a skittish halt in front of Marvolo and his son's voice hastily spoke. "There are wizards attacking the Burrow. Mr. Weasley and four of his sons are fending them off, but there are more than five. I'm pretty sure. We need help." Then the patronus faded from view, its message delivered.
Madame Bones took action on the spot, ordering the Aurors on duty to prepare to defend the House of Arthur Weasley and his family against an unknown number of attackers before turning towards Marvolo where he stood his thoughts whirling. "I guess I can't make you stay behind?" He shook his head. "You can apparate there yourself?" Marvolo managed a nod "Good. I hope there will be no problems regarding chain of command?" There was a challenge in her voice and despite the situation Marvolo felt his lips quirk into a tiny smirk.
"Your people, so you're in charge. If it's all right with you, I'll make sure my son his safe, and support where necessary." He felt a strong desire to call his own people for help, but he had seen that the Aurors were competent, and the only way to call for his Death Eaters was nothing he could do in public.
Without any more unnecessary words, the group departed for the Burrow, all of them ready to step onto a battlefield with an unknown number of hostile magicals attacking a house with children.
The moment Marvolo landed a few paces away from the wardline around the Burrow – seeing spellfire flying towards the oddly shaped house, just hearing the shout of "Ministry lackeys!" from somewhere – he knew he was out of his depth. He preferred responding to reacting to a situation, and he simply never had made plans for a situation close to this. Attacking houses, defending a place against attacks from outside, open battle. All of that was pretty clear in his head. But he had never had need of plans for how to defend a structure from the outside while it was under attack. He always had been able to call his people to the inside of each building that he might have to defend. And he never would have come to the defence of others in the past. He would have to make a plan.
At the moment, Madame Bones was sending Aurors after the figures running away, and Marvolo made the decision to follow her commands.
There had never been a battle he had taken part in where he had not been the one in charge.
"Dawlish, Tonks, Slytherin," Madame Bones called out, and once she had the attention of all of them, motioned for them to move around the house clockwise, taking out all possible threats they might encounter. Then she waved to the remaining Aurors to come with her and walk counterclockwise around the house to do the same.
With quick gestures Marvolo and his two Aurors – well, one was truly his, and the other a loan from Madame Bones – agreed on an order to walk in and started to search out their opponents stalking off into the darkness. Snow, half melted and then frozen again in some spots, crunched under Marvolo's boots, but a quick spell took care of that possible give away. With a frown, straining to hear and spot the possible dangers, Marvolo cast a flurry of other silent spells. After that neither he nor his clothes caused any sound, nor was he any longer detectable by scent. Even if the myth that a werewolf's senses were better than a human's were untrue, there were charms and potions as well as rituals to enhance one's senses if one desired.
Breaking glass made Marvolo turn towards the house just in time to see a burning piece of something being thrown through a window in one of the upper floors. Forcefully reminding himself that the children – his son! – weren't alone in the house, Marvolo cast one very strong and silent stunner at a pathetic, cowering figure holding a beaters-bat, felling what seemed to be a man. Adhering to Ministry protocol, a binding spell followed, before he moved on. There was no time to secure any of them further, but as they worked around a circle from one point in opposing directions, it was pretty sure they would manage to subdue all threats.
Suddenly Auror Tonks was thrown into his way, landing with a loud thump, air rushing out of her lungs. Marvolo automatically turned in the direction she had come from, falling into a defensive stance over the fallen witch.
"You!" a big figure snarled, taking the last step to be fully illuminated by the thin crescent moon.
"Fenrir," Marvolo said without inflection. He hadn't thought they would meet. What a pity that he had two witnesses here. He would need to capture the mangy wolf alive, and limit himself to spells actually approved by the Ministry.
And then with a flick of his wrist Marvolo started to send a barrage of spells at the thorn in his side. Cutting curses, stunners, joke hexes like the jelly-legs curse, one after the other as fast as he could manage. It was fast enough that all Fenrir could do was dodge, cast shields, and try to avoid being hit. As much as Marvolo liked duelling with Severus, Lucius, or Augustus for the skill those three posed, this absolute dominance fighting against a single wizard of inferior skill had its own charm.
And then a stunner flew past Marvolo's hip, connecting with Fenrir's chest, toppling the werewolf unceremoniously onto his back.
"Bastard," the female Auror snarled, and reminded Marvolo fiercely of her late aunt Bellatrix in just that moment. Wrapping the wolf in thick silver chains, Marvolo chose to not comment on his observation.
Before they could resume their chase, Madame Bones and her Auror escort came into view.
Full of worry for his son, Marvolo broke rank without much thought, striding in a not-quite-run towards the house. He just had to check on his son. He had to! There was no way in the world he would be able to wait.
He reached the door to the house just when a wizard stepped out of the building, wand raised and at the ready.
"All is clear!" Marvolo called, holding his own wand in a way that was usually a sign of a peace offering, because it was almost impossible to start any serious, dangerous spell aiming at the one standing in front of that way.
"Lord Slytherin." Marvolo recognized the voice as the one of the curse-breaker Weasley – William, the oldest – and tried not to be offended by the suspicious tone. "How come youare here?"
"Henry sent a Patronus to call for help. I was at the Ministry. Madame Bones heard the message and accompanied me with a few Aurors that had been on duty. I hope all is well?" It was funny how dropping the name of his son made the tension almost vanish. But he guessed the truth in this case was a rather good explanation for his appearance here.
"They broke a few windows, hoping to get us to run outside, I guess. But it feels as if they were ill-prepared." Charlie Weasley – the one working with the dragons – said before turning to his older brother. "Come on, let's check the ward line." So the two brothers wandered off.
Madame Bones suddenly spoke from behind Marvolo, and only long training helped him not spin on the spot, cursing her. "May we come in, Arthur?"
"Yes, yes! Of course! Come in!" the head of the household exclaimed, appearing quite flustered, with his reddened cheeks and mussed-up hair.
And so they filed into the kitchen, while cracks in the garden spoke of prisoners being taken away to holding cells at the Ministry.
Marvolo was just about to turn around to take part in the debriefing after this short battle, when a considerable weight collided with him. "I was so worried! Saw that fight you were in! Are you injured? Thank you for coming!"
A weight fell from Marvolo's chest as he closed his own arms around his son, who had him encompassed in another of the boy's crushing hugs. He would have to do something to get one that didn't happen in the wake of some dangerous situation. They felt nice enough to go to some trouble to figure out what other circumstances might tempt Henry to grant them.
"I'm fine. Really I am. He wasn't really a challenge. Even as a somewhat useful duellist, Fenrir mostly relies on fear and intimidation to win. And we were three against one. He didn't stand a chance." He could go into more detail of why he had been sure to win, but didn't feel it necessary to do so just now.
In fact he felt quite content, standing in the kitchen wrapped in the arms of his son, his head resting on his son's head – and that wouldn't be possible for much longer – only listening in to the debriefing taking place around them.
Madame Bones recounted the number of assailants they had managed to subdue, stated the fact that there had been a hag among them, as well as several werewolves from the list of those deemed dangerous, and a few known criminals.
Marvolo's eyes met with those of Madame Bones across the kitchen filled with redheads, and he watched her features soften for a moment, watching him embrace his son, before she turned to accept a cup of tea from Mrs. Weasley.
What strange turns his life had taken since he had regained a body. And somehow it felt as if the strangeness wasn't about to stop anytime soon.
AN: That got longer than I had planned, so a few things will have to wait for the next chapter. Someone brought up Amelia Bones as a potential partner for Marvolo, and even though I feel it would be really hard to get them together, I find myself curious how that would work out. No idea if it will happen here (haven't really planned who Marvolo might find as a platonic partner for a marriage) but I find myself plotting possible ways to explore this idea.
Thanks to Jordre and Jake for helping to improve my spelling!
First published on the 13th of April 2018
Next chapter planned for 27th of April 2018