AN: I'm posting this early because I will be on an outing most of Friday and I though better a little early than a little late ;)

Have fun with the next chapter, the holidays are coming to an end. Finally :D

oooOOooo

Delays

Friday, 29th of December

Sitting down at the breakfast table, Remus first poured himself a cup of tea before he picked up the Daily Prophet. As Harry had holidays, Remus didn't have much to do – there simply weren't that many essays to read and mark – so he spent his time reading books, the newspaper, organising notes for Harry to study in preparation for his OWLs, and so on. Maybe he should accept a few more jobs like the one he had at the moment to fill his time constructively. Or he could write a new textbook for History of Magic classes. A new one was desperately needed.

After he had eaten a good portion of his breakfast, and had braved the society pages droning on and on about a local art auction for charity, organized by the amateur artists themselves, his eyes fell on the section with various, mostly uninteresting notices from the Ministry.

There, between the announcement of a promotion and the search for a new supplier of tea for the break rooms, was the notification that the execution of one feral werewolf by the name of Fenrir Greyback had taken place in the early hours of the morning.

And that was all. No mention of the reasons the execution had been demanded, or if there had been a trial. Remus had known that there had been an outstanding warrant, and he really was glad that that monster was gone. But he had a bad taste in his mouth regardless of his relief.

Almost an hour after Remus had left his room, Sirius ambled down for breakfast, his hair unkempt and his clothes clearly not fresh from the wardrobe.

Remus raised a brow in silent inquiry. Sirius shrugged. "No sense in getting ready for the day, when I plan to go to bed again soon, is there? But I need to see if there's mail for me, write an answer to anything important, and eat something. I'm starving!"

With an indulgent eye roll, Remus returned to his paper, only to stare at the unassuming, much-too-short notice.

"What's wrong?" Sirius asked between bites of scrambled egg.

"Greyback was executed this morning."

A surprised noise from Sirius caused Remus to look up. "And why are you looking like someone kicked your puppy? I, for one, think it's a good thing that vile bastard is gone for good." Remus nodded, but frowned.

How to explain his mess of emotions to his friend? "I agree that Fenrir Greyback has earned what he got. But do you realize that there never was a trial, or even a hearing of some sort? Get enough people to agree I'm dangerous and out to infect as many as I can and the same could happen to me." Remus knew he sounded bitter, but he couldn't help it.

Sirius hummed, refilling his mug with coffee. "That would be unfortunate. That's true. But I still can't say I'm sorry that he didn't get a trial. We both know he was a monster."

Remus scoffed, folding the Daily Prophet with jerky movements before placing it at the edge of the table.

Sirius sighed, rubbing his hand over his face. "And I managed to step in it again. Right? Sorry, Remus. I see that there's a bigger problem here. But isn't Lord Slytherin working on that at the moment? I distinctly remember him speaking about the need for equal rights for every intelligent member of our society during all those dull parties."

Now Remus rolled his eyes at his friend in exasperated amusement. Sirius really wasn't cut out to be Lord Black, though it was admirable how much he tried to fill the role he had never wanted to take.

Sirius furrowed his brow in confusion. "What did I get wrong now?"

"Maybe you could be a little more active in this? Maybe push for rights not only for those infected with lycanthropy, but those with mixed heritage as well? Hagrid probably would be happy if there was less prejudice against half-giants." Remus gave Sirius a pointed look, leading to the other wizard groaning.

"You make it sound so easy to overthrow prejudices hundreds of years old. Shall I advocate for goblins getting wands next? I agree that people with goblin, veela, giant, or something else in their ancestry shouldn't get mistreated for that. But you know that realism is a thing, yes? Demanding too much, too fast can lead to backlash. I am already working to help get the laws against lycanthropes amended. It'll take time. Years, probably. Maybe Harry's children, or grandchildren, will be able to tackle the next piece of messed up legislation."

Now it was Remus' turn to rub a hand over his face. He knew that laws were changed faster than the perceptions of society. And that if prejudices weren't countered slowly over long stretches of time, the laws were liable to be brought back.

Maybe Remus simply was unhappy with how the prejudices of others had hindered his own dreams all of his life. He wished it would be different, and was tired of waiting. "You're right, Sirius. I think I'm getting a little impatient with the state of it all."

Sirius nodded and let the topic drop, reaching for the letters waiting on a side table. For a moment the only sounds in the room were the fire providing them with warmth, cutlery on porcelain, and the rustling of parchment as Sirius went through his letters.

"Look, a letter from Jacobs!" Sirius exclaimed, holding up the letter he had been reading.

"What does he say?" Remus inquired truly curious.

Sirius quickly scanned the letter, his brow furrowed in concentration. "He has answers from the different magical schools he contacted. Not one of them has a Olivienne Moreau as an alumna, so he thinks she's most likely a muggle. The schools weren't as helpful concerning her daughters. Sam explains that they all have a policy of not speaking about their minor students with outside parties. Inconvenient, but understandable, I think. He says that he got a lot of answers to the inquiries he had posted in several newspapers. Working through those is his next step. Well, I guess it would be unreasonable to expect more this soon after he started to investigate."

"But still we hope, eager in our impatience." Remus commented, startling a laugh out of Sirius. They understood each other. Some things just took time, but even knowing that, they had trouble waiting while they could do nothing much.

oooOOooo

A last look into the mirror – "Lovely as ever, Augusta!" - she made sure her hat was on straight and her robes were hanging correctly over the purple, velvet dress she had chosen. Since Lord Slytherin had told her about the mess he had uncovered while trying to adopt another child without proper family, thoughts about that had troubled her.

The other witches of her bridge group had been outraged when she had told them over their breakfast meeting this morning. They all agreed that it wasn't right to put so many obstacles into the way of those that wanted to take in children without a proper family. They all had agreed that a child with such an obvious family gift as Parseltongue should be taken in by family without that much hassle. It had worked well in the past. Why should it be changed?

They all had agreed to keep their ears open and ask around to find out who had changed things so drastically.

Augusta herself somewhat agreed that the process so far had been pretty open to interpretation. At first she hadn't been happy that there had been nothing that could be done about Lord Slytherin – then Marvolo Riddle – adopting Harry Potter just based on the fact that he could speak to snakes, the Slytherin family gift. She had had serious doubts about the man's suitability as a father. Now she knew that the man made a decent father and was content with the way the situation had developed.

But testing someone to see if they were a suitable parent? How would that even work? Augusta was pretty sure it would take weeks, if not months, of surprise visits and constant monitoring. What qualities would even be tested? How kind someone was? How stern? If that wasn't just as biased as the previous way of determining things, she no longer was Augusta Longbottom.

But at the moment, the fact that no one seemed to be responsible was the more urgent problem.

In a whoosh of green flames, Augusta whirled away through the Floo network towards the Ministry. Once she had stepped out at the other end, she spelled her robes clean with a flick of her wand. Sooty clothes did nothing to add to an imposing persona, and she would need all she could get.

The few people scuttling about the atrium quickly made way for her as she walked with determined steps towards the elevator. She would go up and into Cornelius' office. He certainly should know about the mess some underlings had created. And if he didn't already know, it was time he learned of it!

ooOoo

As was the case every year over the extensive season of social gatherings, paperwork and parchments had built up into heaps on his desk. And as he did every year, he came here in the last few days between the Longbottom Ball and the New Years Ball hosted at the Ministry on the first of the new year to get as much done as he possibly could.

No one would bother him with requests, he had no appointments, and both were requirements to get anything done around here.

He just had finished reading a terribly long-winded and boring letter from the Bulgarian Minister, when the door opened with a bang. Irritated, Cornelius looked up only to smooth his face quickly into the polite mask he wore most of the time. Whatever had caused the mood this formidable witch was in hopefully had nothing to do with his Ministry.

"Augusta! What a pleasant surprise! How can I help you?" With a happy smile Cornelius got out of his chair and walked around the big desk to greet her.

"I doubt you will think my visit pleasant when I'm done speaking, Cornelius." That did indeed not sound good. Despite his apprehension, Cornelius kept up the pleasant face and invited his guest over to the seating area. Before he could start with damage control, he had to find out what really had happened to rile her up like this.

"Do you want some tea, Augusta?" She accepted with a nod and settled back comfortably in the velvet chairs.

"Are you aware that someone has been changing the rules governing the adoption process without finishing the job?" the older witch asked pointedly, sipping from her tea.

Cornelius frowned. Buying himself some time, he prepared himself a tea to his preferences, adjusting the amount of milk several times.

Cornelius thought quickly. He knew the laws governing adoptions. They were vague enough that neither the Wizengamot nor he were needed to adjust the procedures. "No, I wasn't aware that there had been any changes. How do you mean that the changes weren't finished?" That claim sounded rather ominous to him.

"Mrs. Wisby told about the changed procedures. And Lord Slytherin wasn't able to discover which department is responsible for conducting the tests that are now required. So the changes weren't finalized, and anyone trying to adopt a child now will be held up indefinitely by bureaucratic hurdles. That's not a situation that can be left alone. It would be terrible for all the children who otherwise could join a loving family. So tell me, Cornelius, who had the bright idea to change something that has been working for hundreds of years?" The way she said that was clearly a challenge. A challenge to his authority, questioning his competency to lead the Ministry and make sure nothing major happened that he wasn't aware of. And even if he hadn't been a Gryffindor at Hogwarts, he couldn't let this challenge go unaccepted. It would undermine his image in Augusta Longbottom's eyes, and with her, in those of many others. She had a lot of influence with the older witches and now also an easy access to Lord Slytherin... and with him, to a lot of the more conservative members of the Wizengamot. No, he couldn't risk this getting any more out of hand than it already was.

So he smiled winningly. "I'm sure we'll manage to untangle what was done and add what's still missing." Augusta didn't look too convinced that they would manage that, but she nodded anyway and started to relay what she knew.

oooOOooo

Saturday, 30th of December

He felt his years more keenly than ever before. Or at least he could not recall ever feeling this old before. The medi-witch who had brought his breakfast and lunch had been kind and patient, answering all the many questions he had dared to ask among all those chasing each other around his mind.

Albus sat in his bed, pillows behind his back propping him up into a comfortable position. Next to his bed sat Minerva in a visitor's chair. She had had to surrender her wand before she could enter the room, leaving her miffed and Albus remembering the fact he was held in a secured room because they deemed him a danger to himself and others.

"You look tired, Albus. I had thought the healers were working on improving your health." Minerva clearly was not happy with what she had seen so far. Security wards around the room, his food in bite-sized chunks to be eaten with his only tool a spoon, no healer or medi-witch entering his room alone. High security meant exactly that.

But as Albus was able to remember the plans he had made to escape, he could understand why they deemed such treatment necessary.

"Healing is an exhausting process, Minerva. And healing from that much dark magic affecting a person is even harder. I am tired, have been for a while now. But I feel as if a black mist has been blown away. Or as if a veil has been lifted, which was obscuring my view of the world. They truly do their best here." He tried to smile reassuringly, but judging by the look in his deputy's eyes, he fell short in his efforts. "What have I missed?" Albus quickly asked in an attempt to distract her.

Minerva's look clearly said that she wouldn't be fooled and had seen that attempt for what it was instantly, nonetheless she still let him change the topic. "There was no trouble at the school. But Fenrir Greyback attacked the Weasleys' home and was apprehended by a group of Aurors who accompanied Lord Slytherin. He was at the Ministry when a Patronus message from Mr. Slytherin reached him. It was reported in the Prophet in great detail." Minerva shook her head. "Other than that, there was nothing important." Suddenly a bright smile broke through her stern façade. "Severus and his lovely wife have been absent from the castle for most of the holiday. Since he picked up the mantle of Lord Prince, and as a married man, he had a lot of events to attend and something better to do than stalking the empty corridors in search of errant students. I feel being married has worked wonders on his mood."

Albus listened as Minerva filled him in on all the gossip he had missed. It didn't go unnoticed by him that she was leaving out everything to do with him. Probably in a bid not to upset him.

He interrupted her rant about a row between Pomona and Rolanda – about some sweets stored in a cupboard in the staff room – gently. "Minerva. Don't you think I need to know what the reaction to my… illness was? I'll learn it either way. Better to hear it from a friend and have time to prepare. Don't you think?"

She looked down on her hands before looking up again, searching his face. "Are you sure, Albus? You look like you need rest."

"That's why I'm currently sentenced to bed rest. It looks like Poppy isn't the only one adamant about this kind of thing." His joke fell on deaf ears, only causing Minerva to give him a look. "I'm resting, Minerva. Please tell me what is going to be waiting for me once I leave the hospital."

Minerva sighed, unnecessarily adjusting her rectangular spectacles, before nodding slowly. "I don't know how she got hold of the information, but Miss Skeeter wrote an article about your illness, citing sources in the hospital. She was her usual self. To summarize: she made you out to be a fool and dangerous for the children even if you should… survive. Shortly after that, one of the governors came to the castle, more or less subtly urging me to take over the position of Headmistress. He wasn't the last." She folded her hands, looking down. "They probably will not agree to allow you to come back."

Albus pondered her words, watching her wringing her hands. Could he deny the claim that he might be dangerous? Looking back at his actions in the weeks before he had been forcibly admitted to St. Mungo's, Albus could see why there might be doubt about his suitability for his post. But it irked him anyway.

"We'll have to see," was all he said to this whole mess, as there wasn't any reason to talk about it more. Their conversation switched back to the more inane stories of the days at the school, before the medi-witch on duty came in to send Minerva away.

Before long, Albus was asleep. Healing was a tiring process.

oooOOooo

Sonja and Severus had returned to the castle while many of the rooms at the manor were renovated all at once. The three elves had started with great enthusiasm on the changes Sonja and he had agreed upon. The garden had to wait until spring, but painting the walls, changing wallpaper, new varnish for the panelling, and polishing all of the furniture could be done now. The fumes and the dust had been too much for Sonja, so they were sleeping at the castle to avoid the worst of it.

With all the chances the last months had brought, Severus welcomed the familiarity of his quarters. His aimless wandering, while waiting for Sonja to be finished in the bathroom, led him to the fireplace in their cosy living room. There on the mantle stood the phial with the memory the Dark Lord had given him. He still hadn't decided what to do. Did he want to see Lily's last moments? Or was he better off not knowing the details?

With careful hands he picked up the phial, spinning it between his fingers. Memories had an odd texture when captured like this. Not really water, or vapour, but still displaying properties of both. Severus sighed, recognising his wandering thoughts as his attempt to once again avoid making a decision.

"Are you okay, love?" Sonja asked from the door to their bedroom, clad only in her bathrobe, currently working on her damp hair.

Despite his troubled thoughts and indecision, Severus smiled. She looked absolutely tempting. "Depends on your definition of okay." Severus gave his wife a wry smile, still fiddling with the cold glass phial.

"Why do you feel the need to even make a final decision about whether you want to view the memory or not?" Sonja asked, walking over to the loveseat while braiding her hair.

That was an excellent question. With a huff Severus sat down next to Sonja, carefully setting the phial down on the small side table. "I'm not really sure. Maybe because not deciding on a course of action feels like cowardice?" He shrugged, his gaze locked on the shimmering not-quite-liquid swirling lazily in the phial.

"You said it was given to you so you could make the decision on your own. You were not asked to return the memory by a certain time, were you?" Severus shook his head. "And it won't get stale or something, right?" Severus snorted, but nodded. Memories stored this way – based on everything known today – would hold indefinitely. "So why not keep it as a memento? Keep your options open. You don't want to view it now. But maybe that will change some day."

With a sigh Severus let himself slump and moved so his wife could embrace him. A little rearranging later, they sat comfortably, Severus' head resting in his wife's lap. It cost Severus little effort to relax into her soothing caresses of the contours of his face. He wasn't sure it would be easy to act as Sonja had suggested. But he surely would try. Maybe one day he would want to see Lily's last moments. And until then, the phial could wait.

oooOOooo

Concern for her youngest child and only daughter brought Molly to her girl's door late in the evening. Ginny had been withdrawn and occasionally explosive over the last few days, avoiding company and eating too little.

And even now there was light shining from under the door, and it sounded as if something soft – a pair of socks, or a pillow, maybe – had just hit the door. If Molly knew her daughter at all, she was sure that there was something seriously bothering Ginny.

Cautiously she opened the door, peering into the dimly lit room, and spotted Ginny sitting on her bed in her nightgown. Tears were streaking down her cheeks, and her face was showing lines of frustration, while she was writing on a piece of parchment with a book as her flat surface. Since that horrible incident with the diary in her first year at Hogwarts, Ginny had never touched a diary again.

"Dear? What's wrong?" Molly asked, stepping into the room and closing the door behind herself. After a moment's thought she flicked her wand at the door and the walls, setting up a rudimentary silencing charm. Her charms weren't really that good, but after the twins once had commented that they couldn't know not to listen in when she didn't even make the attempt to keep them out with magic, she had come into the habit of casting the only silencing charm she knew whenever she wanted the closed door to be interpreted as a signal for a wish for privacy by the twins.

"Why does Harry ignore me? Why doesn't he love me? Can't he see how wonderful we would be together?" At the end she was almost wailing her question, falling forward towards where Molly had sat down on the bed beside her daughter. Embracing her little girl, Molly thought about how she could help Ginny cope with her unrequited love.

Because from what she had seen over the last visit, Harry really wasn't interested in Ginny at all. He treated her just as he did Ron, or Hermione. Maybe a little less friendly, because Ginny probably had been a little aggressive.

Molly smiled sadly. Her little girl knew what she wanted and wasn't shy about going to get it. But in this instance, that probably wouldn't work out. So she gently rubbed Ginny's back, letting her cry out all her frustration and heartache.

It took some time, but finally Ginny calmed down enough that they could talk. Molly set out to explain to Ginny why Harry most likely wasn't interested in her.

"I think I have an inkling why Harry doesn't love you like that. You know that he sees Hermione more like a sister, right? And they met when they both were just eleven. Practically grew up together. Ron's his best friend, almost like a brother. When you met Harry, you were just eleven yourself, and Harry was only twelve. I suspect he just sees you as a sister. Maybe he isn't even able to see you as a young woman. It happens when two people are close during childhood." Ginny didn't react in any way, still sniffling and pressed into Molly's side. "Your father and I were in the same House, but we never interacted much until we were well on our way to being adults. I know it's not what you want to hear, but it will probably make you happier to let go of your… idea of Harry and take a look at all the other boys." Calling Ginny's interest a fixation probably wouldn't help matters, so Molly quickly chose another word. Maybe she should have started to protest Ginny's insistence she would marry Harry Potter once they both had finished school when it first started, when Ginny had been learning to read. In a way she felt responsible for the situation as it was now.

Molly stayed with a distraught Ginny well into the night, and only left once her little angel was asleep. Maybe she needed to distract her girl the next few days and set her mind on other boys before she was to return to Hogwarts.

oooOOooo

Sunday, 31st of December

Flimm woke Harry early in the morning on this special day, just as he had asked the elf to do. It had taken a little convincing, but in the end Flimm had agreed to let Harry prepare the breakfast for this day. Marvolo's first birthday since he regained a body and was trying to follow a different way.

Harry was convinced that a birthday was just as important as a family Christmas, so making breakfast seemed a good way to acknowledge the fact that Marvolo and Harry were a family now, and that Harry cared for Marvolo. At first Harry hadn't thought he should – or even could – care for the man who had been Voldemort, but long talks with Mrs. Goyle had convinced him that no one had a right to demand explanations for how Harry felt, or got to dictate who he could care about or not.

Marvolo had made an effort to do right by Harry ever since he had adopted him. There probably were lots of people who would claim that Harry just could not forgive what had happened in the past, but as Mrs. Goyle had pointed out, they were not the ones living Harry's life.

Only a blind man with no sense for his surroundings could have missed Marvolo's habit of picking the sweetest dish available at any given time. So he had created an apple compote, porridge with nuts, raisins, and a number of different sweet additional toppings to choose from, a sweet bread that was great with orange marmalade, and a big stack each of pancakes and waffles.

He had just finished arranging the table and casting warming charms – and cooling charms – on the food so it would stay the perfect temperature when he heard Marvolo move down the stairs.

Preparing their cups of tea just the way they normally took it, Harry was standing by the table the moment Marvolo walked in, as usual dressed in finely tailored robes.

"Good morning, Henry..." was the absent-minded greeting that trailed off at the end when Marvolo looked up. Harry just had to grin at that look of astonishment.

"Happy birthday, Marvolo." Harry waved his hand at the table and the food waiting for them. "I made breakfast. All of your favourites, and a few basics." When Marvolo only blinked a few times, slowly, before nodding and turning towards Harry, the teenager had trouble containing his laughter. It hadn't been intended as a prank, but it seemed it had the effects of one.

"Thank you, Henry. It's not as if my birthday was ever really ignored, but never did someone go to these lengths to make me happy. Thank you indeed." Marvolo sat and Harry followed suit, pleased that his simple idea had been so well received.

They filled their plates with the food Harry had prepared, as well as fresh fruit and a few savoury dishes Flimm had insisted on, starting their normal morning routine in silence. The holidays hadn't been all that long, but Harry had noticed that it was easy to fall into a routine that felt comfortable.

They split the Daily Prophet and each read their respective parts while eating to their heart's content. "Do you have any plans for today?" Harry wanted to know. "I know there won't be a party, but maybe a visit to the theatre, or something?" He wasn't really sure what Marvolo would like to do on his birthday. Dudley had always invited one or two friends to go on some outing with him, and others Harry knew would invite all their friends to a party with lots of food and games. Marvolo was more of the outing kind of guy – at least in Harry's eyes – and probably had had enough of parties with a large number of people for the next few months.

"I haven't planned much. First I'll have to deal with that," Marvolo waved to indicate a basket filled with letters and scrolls placed there by Flimm and ignored by Harry until now, "and later we'll be visiting Marcus for dinner. I asked Xerxes yesterday and he agreed. The rest of the day I hoped to spend at home enjoying a few quiet hours for once."

"You'll have to write a response to each one?" Harry made a grimace in sympathy, but then had to grin over the prospect of seeing Marcus again so soon. "Before you open all those letters, I want to give you your birthday present."

Marvolo's look clearly said that he had thought the breakfast was all that he would get, and was all, or even more than, he had expected to get.

Harry stood, suddenly nervous, and called "Flimm!" in the previously arranged signal to bring down the easel which supported the painting Harry had finished in time. A few steps brought him over to the cloth covered canvas. "I made this for you." He shuffled his feet and felt ridiculous. Why was he so nervous? Who was he kidding? He had put a lot of work into this and now feared that Marvolo wouldn't like his present.

With deliberate movements Marvolo stood, walked around the table and stopped next to Harry in front of the easel. Then he waved his hand and the cloth moved upwards to hover up and away, revealing the painting underneath.

Harry watched Marvolo's face and felt relief when he saw wonder and a hint of happiness in Marvolo's red eyes.

"That's a really good painting of Hogwarts. I think I remember the spot you stood in to paint this. You haven't been working out in the cold all the time, have you?"

Harry laughed, feeling like dancing now that his gift had been accepted. "I only made the first sketch standing there. After that I worked in the dorm. Hermione helped me with getting the material. It was fun. But animating the snowflakes to actually fall wasn't possible anymore. I guess that's something I'll have to try another time."

"We'll have to find a good spot for it. I want everyone visiting to see it. Maybe we can move another picture to a different spot…"

They searched for a place to hang the picture and found one in the hall, where they moved the picture of an autumn forest to one of the guest rooms. After that Marvolo opened all his mail. Harry helped, and snorted more than once over the phrases that were used over and over again. It was pretty clear that there was obligation at work here, not real interest. And a lot of people obviously didn't even care enough to pretend.

oooOOooo

Marvolo, Henry, and a once again shrunken Nagini were sitting at the dinner table with Mr. London, Marcus, and a few other kids. Nagini currently was slithering from one child to the other, getting scratches on her head and snatching a few small bites of bacon.

The fact how at ease the children were around his snake assured Marvolo that the decision to buy a snake for the science classroom had been a good one. To reduce prejudice, one had to start early on.

"What's your favourite colour?" a little girl asked of Henry, who made a contemplative face. Marvolo watched with interest the way his son interacted with the small children while he ate his own roast and vegetables. He needed to set a good example.

"I guess I have more than one," Henry finally answered. "I like the gold-yellow-red combination of Gryffindor, but green is a really nice colour too. And there isn't much that reminds me more of the freedom of flying as a sky-blue."

Several little heads nodded solemnly, forcing Marvolo to quickly cover his amused snort with a cough. It was just too funny seeing such young children so earnest. After the declarations of various favourite colours had finished, the conversation moved on to favourite animals, foods, and more of the same.

Even as it was funny conversing with young children, Marvolo feared that the novelty would wear off soon. It really was hard to believe he actually was working towards adopting Marcus and becoming the adult responsible for the boy's life. The thought might even be more fearsome than death. Not something he had ever expected to happen. But that was true for a lot of things that had happened since the summer.

"What's your favourite colour, Father?" Henry suddenly involved Marvolo in the conversation, who now found himself the centre of attention of all the children and an amused-looking Mr. London.

"I guess I like both the deep green of a dark forest, and the red of rubies, Henry. And before you ask, my favourite animal is the snake, or more specifically the boa constrictor," Marvolo answered, giving the cheeky brat – he was grinning from ear to ear – a short little glare.

"Why do you call Harry Henry? Isn't Harry his name?" Marcus suddenly wanted to know, looking curiously from one to the other.

Now the look between the two visiting wizards became uncomfortable. Of course Marvolo had stuck to his promise not to assume a familiarity that wasn't there and address his adopted son by his new actual name instead of the nickname all his friends were using. And now they had to explain this somehow and in a way that the children sitting around them would understand.

"Well," Marvolo started struggling to find words that would work, but managed to sound certain of himself. It always was a good skill to appear confident and sure, whatever one's true state was. "Henry is the name that is listed on his birth-certificate. As Harry is one of the more common nicknames for someone named Henry, he has elected to introduce himself as Harry to those he feels close to." Marcus still looked confused and turned to Henry when the teenager started to speak.

"Until I was adopted, everyone called me Harry. I was just a kid then, and I think father now calls me Henry all the time to help me get used to being called that. You see, soon I'll be an adult myself, and adults don't call each other by their nicknames all the time."

"I want to have a nickname too!" Marcus claimed with conviction and soon a flurry of alternatives were offered from the kids sitting around them. Some of the ideas were absolutely silly – like snake-tamer – and others simply not really something that Marcus felt fitting.

In the end Marvolo ended that line of discussion before it could get even more out of hand and end with tears. "Most nicknames that aren't obvious choices from a name come with time. Don't rush it, Marcus, I'm sure you'll have a nickname in time."

After that Marvolo directed the conversation and noticed that keeping it from going in a dangerous direction was not as easy with children as it was with a group of members of the Wizengamot. And required a lot of the same skills.

It didn't take long until it was time for bed, and Marvolo was pressured into telling a bedtime story to all the kids. Quickly everyone agreed upon The Fountain of Fair Fortune, and Marvolo started to read with Marcus nestled into his side. "Make a higher voice for the witches!" one child demanded once Marvolo reached the part of the three witches sharing their tales. With an internal sigh Marvolo started to make different voices for each of the characters in the story, much to the delight of the children listening. And to the amusement of the adults who also had made it over to the sitting room where everyone had found a seat on a chair, a blanket on the floor, or one of the many cushions scattered around the room.

Once the story was finished, the children – among them a few bemused looking teenagers – were ushered off to their beds, and Marvolo picked himself up from the cushion Marcus had insisted they sit on, closing the book to give back to Marcus. "Sleep well, Marcus. And pleasant dreams."

Small arms wrapped around Marvolo as close to his middle as Marcus could reach. "Good dreams, Marvolo." And off he was, running after the others, his book clutched securely in his hand.

"You're a great storyteller," Henry remarked as he slowly picked his way through the mess on the floor over to Marvolo's side.

"Thank you, Henry. I once made an effort to school my voice to exactly that effect, if for another purpose than reading bedtime stories." He hummed contemplatively before giving Henry a grin and a raised brow. "Maybe we should add such training to your schedule this next summer. It obviously has a number of benefits."

Henry rolled his eyes and asked with obvious sarcasm. "You're already making a list, aren't you?"

Marvolo chuckled and only nodded in response.

"I might need to pressure you to come by more often for the bedtime story," Mr. London remarked. "Especially the older kids tend to avoid company most of the time."

Surprised, Marvolo gave the squib a questioning look. "I fear I might not have the time to start a new career as professional storyteller."

"Too bad. Have a nice trip home. Lord Slytherin. Heir Slytherin-Potter." The man gave a bow so well executed that Marvolo almost was sure his suspicion that this man had grown up part of a family of high social standing was correct. But as the man obviously didn't want his familial connections known, and there was no current need to get to know them, Marvolo let the matter drop.

Both he and Henry grabbed their cloaks and walked to the edge of the wards. A short apparation with Henry as his passenger brought them home, where they parted for a moment, planning to meet up in the study to go over the steps they wanted to take in their goal to adopt Marcus into their small family.

Maybe it was time to get Henry's opinion on his tentative plans to find himself a partner for marriage.

ooOoo

Harry quickly walked down the stairs to the Lord's study, where he was to meet with Marvolo. The evening had been nice, and seeing Marvolo read a story to all the children had been something else. For a moment he had imagined how it might have been to have someone read him a story about witches and a knight when he had been Marcus' age. Aunt Petunia certainly never would have picked such a story, as she and Uncle Vernon had even prevented Dudley from seeing anything on the telly which had any mention of magic. And anyway, Dudley had never had the patience to sit through a story being read to him. Harry remembered quite clearly the few instances in the early years in school when the teacher was reading them a story, where he had to avoid punches and pinches from a bored Dudley.

Shaking his head to banish this fruitless train of thought – he was fifteen going on sixteen, not five – Harry raised his hand to knock on the door to the study. When he heard the "Come in!" from inside he opened the door and stepped in.

"Come and sit," Marvolo said, an opened letter in his hand. "Do you want to have something to drink?"

"I would like a cup of hot chocolate, please," Harry answered, picking one of the two chairs by the desk to sit down in.

"Madame Longbottom wrote to me. She is working on sorting out the adoption mess and has drafted the Minister to help. She wanted to inform us, and claims that my involvement in this would probably be an obstacle instead of an asset. So with a little luck it won't be long into the new year before we can adopt Marcus." Marvolo sounded satisfied with the development, and Harry had to agree that Neville's grandmother probably was the best witch for this. She was determined, intimidating, and known to be supportive of the light agenda. Where some people would be contrary just because Marvolo wanted something, Madame Longbottom wouldn't encounter the same problems. "That's good. Marcus certainly would benefit from getting here before the summer holidays. So he gets you all to himself for the first weeks or even months."

"You think that's something he needs?" Marvolo sounded normal enough, but Harry had spent a lot of time talking to him, so he was pretty sure he had seen a short spark of fear or maybe worry in the other's red eyes.

"I think he would probably have an easier time adjusting? But I'm not sure and not an expert." In that moment Flimm had the drinks appear on the desk, which offered Harry the opportunity to conceal his awkwardness by sipping from his cup.

"Maybe we should consult Madame Goyle about this. She certainly is more of an expert on this than either of us," Marvolo decided after adding three spoons of sugar to his tea, stirring thoroughly.

Fiddling with his cup, Marvolo took a deep breath, and Harry wondered what he wanted to talk about that he was so obviously nervous, even in their own home. "Concerning the question Marcus asked earlier. I understand that you might never be comfortable with letting me use a more familiar address. Frankly I'm astonished that we have come so far. When I decided on my new path this last summer, I never expected to find a true family. I'm not averse to calling you Harry. But I can understand if you never feel enough at ease with me to grant me the privilege to use it."

Harry had no idea how to react to this declaration and chose to change the topic to the next steps in the overhauled adoption process. Marvolo allowed the change without protest, and when they finally retired to bed, it was as if Marvolo never had spoken about his wish for a more openly acknowledged closeness as father and son.

oooOOooo

AN: Riada, thanks for bringing up the memory that Marvolo gave to Severus. I hope what I added works for most of you.

And I wanted to thank Montara for letting me "watch" the way through the story by making a comment on every chapter! I love when someone does that :D

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

First published on the 11th of May 2018
Next chapter planned for 25th of May 2018