AN: I want to thank you all for your continued support, all those comments you write, and the time you spent to tell me what you think, all of them help me stay on track writing, inspire new ideas, and make me able to manage the schedule I have set for myself!
At the time I'm writing this there are 3907 reviews on I'm so happy for each single one!
Friday, 5th of January 1996
Sirius was bounding around over the short grass on the lawn covered with a thin layer of ice and snow. This was a night of the full moon, and the moon was about to rise over the horizon. Since their time at Hogwarts they never again had had such a secure location to run in as they had now. And even though he wanted to think badly of Lord Slytherin, there was nothing he could criticise about the wards the man had set up. Sirius had spent the whole day checking them over, even as Remus had insisted that it wasn't necessary.
And Remus had been right. And the old bookworm had known it, looking smug as hell when Sirius had come back into the room where Remus had been resting on a kind of divan bed, already under a strain because of the nearness of the full moon.
Now Remus was getting rid of his clothes – as Sirius could clearly hear, even as he kept looking elsewhere just as Remus had requested – so he wouldn't shred the trousers, shirt, and robes during his transformation.
With enthusiasm that felt a little ridiculous – he really wasn't five anymore – Sirius moved his nose down to the ground searching for interesting scents that might lead them into a merry chase and to something for Remus to fill his stomach with.
It was also a way to distract himself from the horrible sounds that suddenly filled the air as the moon started its ascent into the sky. Bones were breaking, things were tearing, and Remus first groaned in pain only for the sound to shift into a decidedly inhuman whine and howl. With the wolfsbane potion the transformation was less painful, but that didn't eliminate all the discomfort. Unfortunately.
In the past Sirius had been fascinated by the shift, always watching when it happened, eagerly following the slide of muscles and rearranging of bones. The first time he had seen someone take Polyjuice potion he had seen the similarities and had to ask Remus if the change felt similar at all.
Remus had said that the transformation he went through each month was at least ten times worse.
But only now, after he had suffered himself for years in Azkaban, did Sirius understand that Remus might not actually feel comfortable with Sirius watching the transformation that closely. The fact that it had been a regular part of all the nightmares Sirius had had in his dank cell back at the prison might have contributed to his awakened awareness. In fact, the more human awareness Remus had gained through the potion he was now taking to make his transformation safer, pushed Sirius into contemplating all this, because now Remus would remember much more clearly.
Maybe earning his friend's wrath was so not worth it.
Anyway, while Sirius had found the older trail of some birds, and a fresher one of a few deer, Remus had finished his transformation, and now a shaggy wolf was standing next to Sirius, head tilted to the side as if asking what Sirius had found.
With a happy bark Sirius moved his front paws and stretched out, butt in the air, tail wagging, asking his friend to play with him. Only moments later the two of them ran, chasing each other, one of the light birch woods their destination.
This was so good. He needed to make sure that he could run with Moony each month. And how much better Moony looked. His fur was thick and free of matted or dirty patches, he had gained weight as well as muscles. It was obvious that living with a friend, regular meals, and a steady job that he loved were doing him good.
Dismissing all those grown-up thoughts, Sirius immersed himself completely in the moment, he in his animagus form – kept warm by his thick coat – running alongside his very good friend under the full moon over snow-covered ground. There wasn't much which made him feel as free as he was now. And without the need to avoid professors or other students, there was nothing they needed to worry about.
Saturday, 6th of January 1996
Marvolo had apparated them to a spot within walking distance of Madame Goyle's office. They had appointments following one after the other, and Harry's was to be first. Marvolo had brought a few muggle books – Harry had been really surprised to see them come out of a package Marvolo had received at breakfast – he was planning to read while he waited.
"You don't need to wait for me, you can use your portkey once your appointment is done with," Marvolo explained, not for the first time.
Harry rolled his eyes. "I understood the first time. I'll make Hermione proud and go over my notes for Runes again."
Their arrival at the office building put a stop to the – admittedly short – conversation. It didn't take long, and the two of them were inside the office being greeted by Madame Goyle. "Come in, come in. A tea, Lord Slytherin? Or do you wish to return later?"
"I'll take the tea and will be waiting here. Back in my office the desk is covered in parchment. I'd never be able to find the peace of mind I need to read these," he motioned his one arm where he held the books to clarify his point, "if I were to return there."
"Sit down then," Madame Goyle said, waving at one of the chairs in the nicely appointed room intended for patients to wait for their appointment. "Harry, do you want a tea as well? Or would you prefer something else to drink?"
"I'll take a tea as well. Thank you." It didn't take long to fill each of their cups with tea and add milk, lemon, and sugar to everyone's liking. Harry had to school his features to avoid grinning over the three heaped spoons of sugar Marvolo added to his measly cup of tea. It wasn't even a big one! That quirk was something that Harry probably would always find funny.
Marvolo settled into one of the chairs, cup close at hand, and started reading, while Madame Goyle and Harry moved into the room where they always had their talks. Harry was nervous yet again, just like he had been before every other session before this one. He was pretty sure that they did help, but that didn't change his nervousness about them.
"How have your holidays been? I remember that they're quite exhausting with all those events to attend," Madame Goyle started the conversation.
For a moment Harry was startled. He totally hadn't thought about the fact that Madame Goyle had grown up in the magical world. Well, at least until she hadn't gotten a letter from Hogwarts. And as an eleven-year-old would have to spend at least the school holidays with her family, it was almost a given she would have had more or less frequent contact with the magical world. "It was a lot. But I guess there isn't really a way to get around it. Not if I want to fill the role of Lord Potter once I'm of age." Harry shrugged a little helplessly. "And it wasn't all bad. I got to spent time with my friends. Got to dance. At least part of it all was fun."
"It's good to hear that you had fun. And you're right that all these obligations come with the title of Lord in the magical world of Britain. But I hope you're also aware that there is no real obligation for you to pick up the title. You could just let it rest with a regent as you have now. It is an option."
Harry frowned for a short moment. And then slowly shook his head. "I didn't know that." But it wasn't that surprising. Most of those who had any interest in telling him something about how this all worked, also wanted him to actually do that job. Madame Longbottom clearly wanted him to take over where his father had left off, and his grandfather before that. Sirius hadn't been all that thrilled with the idea, but now he had picked up his own family title, so clearly he would argue more for Harry to join him in the misery than agree with his letting the responsibility go. And Marvolo had adopted him to have an heir. But not only that. The fact that Marvolo clearly was someone who wanted power meant he probably didn't even consider the possibility of Harry not wanting that kind of responsibility.
Then another thought struck him. "You did look that up?" Why else should Madame Goyle know of something like this?
"To effectively help you, I need to know the circumstances affecting you. So, yes I did look up a few things I wasn't all too sure about." Madame Goyle smiled kindly, admitting to doing research.
Harry nodded, he guessed he could accept that. And maybe Marvolo would explain how keeping a regent even when he was an adult would work. At the moment it felt good to know all this stuff, to learn how to take up the job. But as he didn't really know what he wanted to do as a job to earn money – estate management wasn't all that interesting – after he was finished with school, knowing all his options to get more free time was important.
"Did anything change? It was, after all, the first time since the summer that you spent more time with your guardian." She really was good at keeping the conversation on track, while also allowing him to go off on a tangent if something came up that he felt strongly about, or needed help with.
"We found out that there's another parselmouth. He has no family. At the moment, at least. And is cared for at the school that Lord Lestrange founded this last autumn. We want to add him to the… our family. So we've been meeting him a lot. So that he can get to know us, while still staying somewhere where he feels safe. You know?" Harry started explaining more than a little awkwardly. He had planned to ask Madame Goyle about how to handle all this, after all.
She nodded, not saying a word or betraying any thoughts, only smiling pleasantly, looking attentive.
"The day before the Ministry Ball, Marcus – that is, the child who's a parselmouth – asked me over dinner why Marvolo calls me Henry. Because my name is Harry. And, well it's kind of… hard? Marvolo later said he'd be happy to call me Harry, but could understand if I never felt comfortable with that. And I simply don't know what to do. Because, well… it's kind of true that we've become close. But on the other hand, there's still the past. It hasn't vanished… But I know I shouldn't let others dictate what I need to be happy." Harry carefully placed the now cold mug of tea down, throwing his hands up in confusion and defeat. He just couldn't figure this out.
For a few moments silence filled the room. Madame Goyle tapped her pen a few times on the clipboard she was using to make her notes on and finally kindly but firmly pointed one thing out that Harry had known already. "Only you can make that decision, Harry. You already have listed the most important facts in this. You are close to your guardian. The past of what he did, and what happened between you, will never just vanish. Others can't make the call on what is needed to make you happy and lead a good life."
Harry growled in frustration. It would have been too easy, but sometimes it would be nice for something to be easy in his life.
Madame Goyle had the nerve to chuckle. "Just remember that there's no need to make a decision about this right now. There's time. Isn't there?"
Harry nodded, and they slid into easier topics for a while. It was clear that Harry would have to ponder the problem with the name for a little bit longer. And at least until the Easter holidays, or even the summer, Marcus wouldn't be living with them. And the explanation that Marvolo had come up with worked well enough.
Harry just knew that the thought would pester him until he finally came to a decision. It would be a pain for a while to come.
Henry looked wrung out when he stepped out of the office followed by Madame Goyle. Not too surprising, actually. Marvolo himself felt those sessions draining, and not in a good way. Confronting thoughts one normally avoided, facing uncomfortable truths... it was hard. Harder than Marvolo had thought, and harder than he ever would admit.
With a flick of his wand, Marvolo shrank the different parenting guide books he had ordered – and started to read while he had waited – and let them slip into his pocket, standing from his seat.
"I'll come home right after I'm finished here. You don't need to study if you don't want to. It has been a long day already. And the essays you have shown me so far are of good quality. You can afford to have a slow evening, Henry." And it was true too. It seemed as if only a little encouragement had been needed to help Henry apply himself to his schoolwork. Marvolo didn't remember that much about all the lessons Quirinus had taught while supporting Marvolo's then bodiless spirit. But he had paid attention in quite a few of the Gryffindor first-year classes. He had been interested in Harry Potter and his performance, after all. Then he hadn't been all that impressed, even more angered over the fact that this mediocre boy had bested him somehow. But now he was pretty sure that the under-performing he had witnessed had been caused by a mixture of factors, Quirinus' stutter being just one of them.
He watched as Henry took his portkey back to their home before following Madame Goyle into the office, where he sat down in the only place where he had neither window nor door at his back.
As usual he placed his wand in the box he had transfigured on his first visit here, before he sat back and tried to relax.
When the tomcat living in this office suddenly landed on his lap, Marvolo almost jumped out of his robes. And then the infernal thing started to purr!
Marvolo watched with speechless amazement as the cat got comfortable on his lap, of all possible places.
"He seems to like you, Lord Slytherin" Madame Goyle commented, just to dive right into the questions she usually asked. "What's on your mind these days?"
"Lots of things," Marvolo answered, giving up trying to find a good place for his hands and finally resting them right there on top of the kneazle mix purring in his lap. Those animals clearly were fearless.
For a moment Marvolo breathed in the long-practiced patterns of his occlumency training, his hands caressing the purring cat almost of their own volition. It was oddly relaxing.
It probably would be a good thing to get the worst, most complicated concern out of the way first. "At the moment, everything has lost importance compared to my… doubts about my suitability to be a father to a child much younger than Henry." There, that was accurate, but didn't state that he had felt real panic the first time he had realized that he would come to be responsible for a child as young as Marcus.
"You don't think that you'll be able to provide what is needed for a younger child? But you feel that you're doing well with your teenage son?" Madame Goyle always insisted on getting him to make clear, precise statements, formulate the facts as he knew them, and above all else be honest, however hard it might be for him.
"Henry can take care of himself. He can dress on his own, now that he has suitable clothes. He can eat and not make a mess, knows when to take a shower, how to care for his teeth, how to tie his shoes. I don't need to make sure he's entertained, don't need to fear he'll play with the fire in the fireplace or torment the house-elf. There's so much that can go wrong!" Marvolo fell silent suddenly. That had come out more panicked than he would have wanted.
"That you know of those possible problems, that you're thinking about what might be possible problems with a young child. Both are evidence that you'll manage, Lord Slytherin," Madame Goyle said, not unkindly.
But her unwavering politeness didn't really fool Marvolo. It was a mask, just like his politeness or his mask of confused uncomfortable young wizard whenever someone brought up his past deeds.
"I grew up in an orphanage during the aftermath of the Depression, and during the second world war. I don't have a single good example of a father in my past. In fact, most that should have been father figures for me I would call disastrous to emulate. How will I ever be able to provide for more than the material needs of the child?" Because between him and Henry they would make sure Marcus would have everything he could ever need. Enough food, a warm home, clothes that actually fit, games and toys. But with Henry away at Hogwarts most of the year, would he, Marvolo, be able to provide for the emotional… needs?
For a moment there was silence, only the purring of the cat making any sound, while Madame Goyle clearly pondered her answer.
"As I said, your awareness of the possible problems, and your desire to do right by the child, is more than some parents can claim for themselves. I would propose the hiring of a nanny as on-site support, freeing you of duties like helping the child dress, bathing, and other daily things along those lines. And for everything else, the willingness to try and ask for help when needed will get you a long way." This was delivered in a matter-of-fact tone that had a calming effect on Marvolo. It was true he had planned to hire a nanny anyway. All the daily stuff would be covered that way. The thought of not being required to dress a small child was a relief.
After that they talked about what Marvolo might prepare before Marcus came to live with them. Prepare a room, find a nanny, organise a way for Marcus to get to school each morning. He felt that this might be a good way to manage his nervous thoughts. He always did better when he was able to act. Regardless how much planning and preparation were part of him, the inability to act, being forced to just wait and see what would happen was always galling. He guessed that was a characteristic that all Houses shared. Having to wait without the ability to influence the outcome, either by knowing things, working hard, scheming, or rushing in, was hard on anyone.
The talk about planning and preparations had brought another thought to the forefront of his mind. There was still a man being held captive at his Headquarters who was thought lost in some remote wilderness during bad weather. Maybe it was time to do something about that.
When he made his way home he found Henry sleeping in the library, a book on different kinds of paintings, their history, and the history of their makers open in his lap. With a smile on his face Marvolo carefully woke his son, gently shaking the boy by his shoulder. "Go to bed, Henry. Sleeping on the couch will only lead to a crick in your neck and a sore back."
With a sleepy mumble Henry stood from the sofa. "Good night. See you at breakfast."
"See you at breakfast. I might leave the house again for a short time, but I'll be back before long." He really should do something about Karkaroff.
When he stepped into the small room that had been Igor's prison for many months now, the first thing Marvolo noted was the putrid smell. It was obvious that the man hadn't been able to bathe, hadn't gotten the best food or any access to a toilet.
A grim satisfaction settled in Marvolo as the traitorous wizard noticed his presence and started to beg, moving so he was kneeling – with obvious difficulty – raising his hands in a pleading gesture, mumbling words that were mostly unrecognisable.
He was a pathetic sight.
"You know that you'll never leave here alive. Why do you still beg?" He would have to make sure that the body of Igor would be found near where he last had been seen. And the body needed to appear as if he had died of natural causes plausible for a man lost in a storm. Maybe a fall breaking his neck? That should be easy enough to accomplish. Maybe they would need to heal him first, erase all traces of the many hours of torture they – and before anyone else, Marvolo – had heaped upon him. The possibility that some magical investigators would get involved wasn't something he could just disregard.
Additionally he would make sure that there would be no doubt that the body had been there the whole time. Insects, animals and scavengers would have left their mark, as would the weather.
So Malcolm would have to start healing the man, and they would have to move him, the current conditions wouldn't help the changed goal. And until the man was a clean slate again, Marvolo would have to do some research to find the right rituals and curses to mask the fact that Igor Karkaroff hadn't died in that storm last year, living in captivity instead.
Only one question remained. Would he kill the traitor in front of his Death Eaters? Or let them keep wondering, maybe even believing that the man still was a captive used as a tool to help Marvolo manage his anger and frustration?
That was an important decision, as either course of action could have positive and or negative reactions from his followers. He needed to weigh the pros and cons before he committed to one over the other. But first he would inform Malcolm of his newest task.
Sunday, 7th of January 1996
They were surrounded by the glaring orange of the Chudley Cannons that Ron had covered all the walls with. Quidditch players zoomed in and out of their posters, and from time to time the groaning of the ghoul in the attic was loud enough to be heard over the experiments down in the twins' room and Ginny's complaining about the noise.
Carefully moving one of his pawns, Harry sat back on the big orange pillow, feeling content. "I'm really hoping that Ginny'll manage to get over her crush on me." And how dearly Harry wished that the girl would overcome her fixation. "She's pretty, and nice, but more like a little sister," Harry quickly added to prevent Ron from exploding on him. His friend really tended to overdo the big-brother routine.
"I'm pretty sure those other girls had a lot to do with the whole," Rone waved his hand vaguely in the air, "mess. And that you're now the heir of Slytherin on top of the whole boy-who-lived stuff didn't help either." Ron moved his rook, making Harry wonder how many moves the redhead was planning in advance, because he couldn't see what this was going to accomplish, and then looked up with a thoughtful expression on his face. "Do you think it would have been easier to get a date to that Yule Ball as the heir of Slytherin?" Ron asked.
"I was a champion and the boy-who-lived back then. Can't see how being heir of Slytherin on top of that would have helped any." Harry shook his head, contemplating his next move. He was going to lose anyway, he was pretty sure. The chess pieces didn't like him any, and were shouting contradictory advice all the time, which only made playing harder. "We both just waited way too long before asking any of the girls." He huffed and sent forward one of the pieces shouting the loudest. "If I could send a message back in time, I would advise myself to just ask Hermione the first opportunity I got and be done with it."
"Why ask Hermione? Weren't you interested in Cho back then?" Ron asked trying to sound casual and interested. But all the lessons over summer, and the last few days, even his stay with the Slytherins at school had sharpened Harry's senses and perception. Ron wasn't calm at all, he was tense, trying to conceal something. Envy or jealousy maybe?
"Because she would have been a safe choice. She's like a sister to me, and I'm like a brother to her. No expectations – she never would want a kiss from me – and no awkwardness, because we know each other so well already," Harry easily answered, keeping a close eye on Ron's reaction.
Ron relaxed, grabbing a cookie from the plate Mrs. Weasley had sent up with them. "So why didn't you ask her to the balls that you had to attend over the holidays? Why go with that Greengrass girl from our year?"
"Because she's searching for a match. And going with me, someone with so much value on the market," Harry and Ron made a face of distaste, both of them didn't really like the idea of arranged marriages, "but also clearly someone who would never be a serious candidate, was going to get the right kind of attention. And she asked me first." Harry had explained this more than once already, but could totally understand why his friends from Gryffindor tended to ask him again and again. Marriage matches and contracts were things used mostly by the more conservative families. And most of those didn't have a lot of children in Gryffindor.
"All those lessons on dancing and manners…" Ron trailed off, clearly searching for words, and sending forward a piece to slay one of Harry's in an attempt to cover up his uneasiness. "Are they helping any? With girls, I mean."
Focusing unhappily on the board between them, Harry slowly answered his friend's question. "Knowing how to dance removes a little of the dread over potential humiliation. Also the standard ways to ask help to have a starting point, kind of. Remember how we didn't know how to ask? Which words to even use? That's better after the lessons. I guess." Harry shrugged, trying to ignore the shouting chess figurines to find a good move to make. Holding a conversation and playing a game of chess at the same time wasn't something that Harry was all that good at. "But Theo pointed out something at the New Year's Ball. As they – Draco, Theo and the others – have had lessons with many of the girls their age from early on, the girls all have tons of blackmail material on them. They know their weaknesses, and some of their more embarrassing moments. They both agreed that it's pretty horrible to even contemplate dating one of them."
For a moment Ron looked surprised, than a look of horror crossed his face, and he paled, making his freckles stand out clearly. "That's a terrible situation! Having the girl you like knowing how you were a stumbling idiot in dancing lessons. But you joined them much later. You like any one of them?"
Harry shook his head. From the Slytherin girls, not one really had caught his eye. They were pretty enough, but he was almost sure that he wanted someone not that tangled up in all those plots and politics, not keeping up a mask around the clock, never really letting it down even in the common room. Because all the girls third-year and up had a real tight grip on their poise even in the common room. Lots of the boys did too, but somehow the standards for them weren't as rigid in some aspects. Not exactly fair, in Harry's eyes. "No. I guess there's just too much history, you know?"
"What about Cho? She's not together with anyone as far as I know. Lavender said she's really one of the few in sixth-year without a partner," Ron asked next, throwing Harry a questioning glance.
Harry flinched a little, and rubbed his hand over the back of his neck. That was a minefield he would rather avoid. "She's pretty, and she's nice. But… with all that happened after the third task. Cedric dying… The rat did it, but… it's complicated. Can't see her really talking to me, now that I was adopted by the man who was brought back in a ritual right there next to Cedric's body." Even without the added complication of being Marvolo's son, and the man having ordered the murder, Harry was sure Cho and he as a couple wouldn't really have worked.
Ron hummed, nodding knowingly at Harry's explanation. Harry frantically searched for a way to change the topic or switch the focus over to Ron, but his friend was faster. "Dad said that you were dancing with Luna Lovegood quite a lot at the ball." Ron waggled his eyebrows, a grin on his face. "There are a lot of stories told about Ravenclaw girls. Always up for an experiment, Dean said."
Harry felt himself blush. Really he shouldn't have lent his book from Marvolo to all and sundry. Some of the others had really started to talk too much about such stuff for Harry's liking. "Don't be that way, Ron. I like that Luna simply doesn't care about all my wealth, or that stupid celebrity thing everyone else seems to see before they see me. Luna's just… easy to talk to, I guess." Really, Harry just liked spending time with the younger Ravenclaw girl. She was happy and funny. It was easy to be with her, no need to keep himself in check all the time. And even the strange stuff in his life paled against the strange things she always had to tell.
"Do you think…" Ron started to ask, but then suddenly stopped speaking, blushing.
"Do I think, what?" Harry asked, interest sparked.
"Do you think, we should play something else? You're not really paying attention. You'll have lost in just three moves." That clearly wasn't what Ron had wanted to ask, but Harry wasn't one to pry – he knew what it felt like to be asked stuff you didn't want to talk about – and all too happy to accept a way out of this game of chess.
"Exploding Snap?" he offered, and Ron quickly agreed. After that their topic of conversation stayed on much safer ground, as Ron tried to get information on the Slytherin Quidditch team out of Harry, claiming that it wouldn't hurt as Gryffindor and Slytherin weren't to play against each other again this school year. Until the time Harry had to return home he laughingly declined and held off all of Ron's attempts at information gathering.
Sam sneezed. That damn dust was everywhere. It hadn't been all that hard to find out where the old records from the closed-down conference centre had been stored. It had taken a little bit longer to get the owner of the storage facility to agree to open the storage unit and let Sam rummage around in the files and paperwork.
And while going through heaps of unrelated paperwork was a boring task, Sam was grateful for people with a tendency to hoard old files and forget they were paying for a storage unit each month. If the one keeping the books at the company which had bought and liquidated the conference centre had kept up a little bit better, or if the one doing the liquidating had been more vigorous in getting rid of no-longer-needed stuff, there would have been much less for Sam to work with.
After more sneezes, and a few paper-cuts, Sam finally found a box with the right year on all the papers inside. He was getting closer. Now he only needed to find files from February in the mess that this was.
He snorted, and moved another box over to the table he was using. He felt that it would be harder than he would like to find what he was looking for. There was no order whatsoever in these files or the way the boxes were stacked into the storage unit.
A few hours later Sam cursed himself for being right. The boxes were so mixed that he feared he would have to look through each one in turn until he finally found what he was searching for.
It was still a few hours later when Sam finally found the box with the files of February 1981. He went through the loose papers until he found lists of names. Attendance lists, lists of people registering for specific talks and presentations. That's what he had been looking for.
It took some more time to go down the list and find the name Moreau, Olivienne on a list for the talk about the decline in number of fishes in the North Sea. The name of the conference was listed too. It was something long, using words which Sam had trouble bringing into any context he could understand. But that really wasn't all that important. He wanted to find the woman, not converse with her about the field she had studied at university.
And there it was, on a list of people who had entered into some kind of raffle: Olivienne Moreau, Sorbonne. If Samuel remembered correctly, that was the name of part of some University in Paris. It had been mentioned in History of Magic. And Sam only remembered it because that had been the one question that he couldn't answer in his OWL test, which cost him the E he had hoped for.
With a grin on his face Sam flicked his wand into the familiar pattern of a copy charm, making himself a duplicate of the sheet he had found. Now he no longer had to search the whole world. Not even the whole of Paris. Only those that had been studying the oceans in February 1981 in Paris, France.
The whole endeavour was looking up.
"I think that everything is now sorted the best way possible, under the circumstances," Cornelius stated with a tired sigh. Augusta simply nodded, because there was nothing more to say. Even Lord Slytherin looked tired. But they all had every reason to be tired. They had worked a long time to sort out a solution they were convinced would make it through the Wizengamot. In the end, all factions agreed that children were better off placed with a real family.
The hardest part had been defining which things would be assessed to declare someone a fit parent. Lord Slytherin had kept silent during that part of the conversation. He had even offered to step out of the office – they were using the Minister's office for their meeting – so as to not be accused of influencing the decisions unduly.
"I agree. And once the January session comes around, we should be able to make the changes needed, to sort this better than it ever was." Lord Slytherin pinched the bridge of his nose – as if trying to stave off a headache – before relaxing back into the plush armchair he was sitting in. "But we still need to decide who from each department will be the one responsible for their department's part in the procedure."
"I guess Mrs. Wisby is a good choice to oversee matters, coordinate everything. Even if there should be more adoptions for a while, the workload won't be enough to keep several people occupied the whole year," Cornelius repeated, not for the first time. The man was obsessed with keeping the budgets low.
"Having the actual work rotate between different members of the Aurors, the Administrative offices, and so on, will help keep the people on their toes. Routine won't muddy the waters, and it'll be possible to avoid someone assessing themselves for an adoption." That had been a point Augusta had felt was really important. There was no way to make sure no one with influence would be prevented from using that to their advantage. But the requirements they had written into their proposal hopefully would appeal to people from all factions.
The ability to be able to provide all material needs for a child would resonate more with the wealthy – and conservative – families. The need to get a clearance from the Aurors for law-abiding behaviour most likely would resonate with the light-oriented members. At first Augusta had wanted to exclude a family if one member had broken the law, at least when it was something more serious than apparating without a license, or accidentally creating hybrid plants in your garden.
A pointed question of where they would draw the line from Lord Slytherin – Would in-laws count? Great-uncles? – made her realize that such a decision would be very subjective and bound to come under question. So they had written down that only direct guardians – so the one adopting and their spouse if one existed – needed to have clear files with the Aurors.
All in all, she was comfortable with what they had decided on.
"Anything new on who started this whole mess?" Lord Slytherin asked of Cornelius, who sighed but nodded.
"My assistant, Arthur Weasley's son, is currently trying to find Susan Summers. She should be back at work after her holiday. He'll bring her here." Cornelius suddenly stopped speaking and turned towards the door to his office. "I guess he found her."
There probably were wards on the door that informed Cornelius if someone was entering the room in front of his office. Following the Minister's example, Augusta and Lord Slytherin turned to the door as well. The small wizard in charge of the Ministry quickly threw each of them a look with a silent question, and Lord Slytherin accepted immediately with a nod. Augusta hesitated a moment longer. Did she trust him to get the answers they wanted to have? Lord Slytherin obviously wanted the Minister to think that he was trusted. But Augusta had fewer scruples to appear demanding and was convinced that he might have troubles. But in the end, she now knew the name of the witch who had started the first changes. It would be relatively easy to ask her some questions herself later if Cornelius did bungle this first attempt.
So she nodded as well just moments before there was a knock on the door.
"Come in!" Cornelius called out, settling himself more comfortably into his chair. Augusta refilled her cup with tea, offering to refill Lord Slytherin's cup as well with a silent gesture. The finely clothed wizard – he always wore clothes of fine quality, but not of the frivolous make some Lords seemed to prefer – accepted with a slight inclination of his head, so Augusta was pouring tea into the cup he had levitated to her when the door opened.
"Minister, Madame Longbottom, Lord Slytherin," the red-headed, lanky wizard greeted the people he obviously hadn't expected to be there. A young witch was behind Weasley and looked a little nervous.
"Thank you, Mr. Weasley, for bringing Miss Summers here. I'll ring if I need anything else." With a little bow the assistant left, leaving Miss Summers behind.
"Miss Summers, please sit down." Cornelius smiled his oiliest smile and made the poor girl even more nervous. Augusta refrained from rolling her eyes. She was here to listen, and listen she would do.
"Thank you, Minister." She sat down, nervously smoothing her robes.
"It has come to my attention that you initiated changes to the adoption process and left for your holiday before the changes were completely implemented, leaving the people responsible for them in confusion." So this was the angle Cornelius wanted to take. Not berating her for changing anything at all, but for the way she had gone about it.
"That was unfortunate," Miss Summers agreed. "But it all went rather slow. But the system was so behind the time. The focus was on everything but the child. A monstrosity! When I read about Harry Potter's adoption, I was outraged. The poor boy! Wasn't even asked if he wanted to be adopted. I specifically asked Mrs. Wisby. She was so confused over why the child should have any say in something like this." Miss Summers was talking herself into a frenzy – with her face and gestures, her whole body, showing her anger – not noting the expressions of careful blank politeness from her audience. And Cornelius let her talk. "And something like this, when it's been known for years – if not decades! – by now how important it is for a child to agree to an adoption. They can develop severe problems with the building of attachments if they are forced into something they aren't comfortable with."
Lord Slytherin briefly had something flickering over his face that had Augusta curious. Why would something inane like this have an effect on the powerful wizard with his excellent control over his emotions and facial expressions?
"It took me so long to find someone who would be even willing to listen! Only when I spoke with Madame Umbridge in an attempt to speak with you, Minister, did I finally find someone who was willing to listen." She smiled sadly when she mentioned the vile woman who had deemed it acceptable to torture children in the name of discipline. Using a blood quill, of all the stupid things to do. "She agreed that the magical world was badly in need of updating the adoptions procedures, as it had been too long since they last had been adapted to new knowledge and the changing times. She didn't inform you, Minister? She said you were too busy at that moment to talk with me, but I should go ahead and start implementing the changes, and she would inform you." Miss Summers stopped with a hopeful smile, while Augusta and the two wizards had quickly exchanged a look.
Umbridge had used this idealistic young woman to instigate a change of the adoption policy which – in its old form – had allowed Tom Marvolo Riddle to adopt Harry Potter, which had led to him claiming the title of Lord Slytherin. And that had set things in motion which had been in direct opposition to what Umbridge had wanted to happen.
It all matched maybe a little too well.
"And when Dolores Umbridge later was put on trial over torturing students, and setting dementors on innocents, you didn't question this order?" Augusta had had enough. This girl was too gullible if she just followed her vision even after the woman endorsing it had been proven to be a criminal who endangered children.
Miss Summers blinked slowly as if she had run head-first into a wall. Augusta wasn't sure, but felt that Miss Summers was maybe a little too naive for work in the Ministry. At least for any positions of real power. "No. Why should I? I knew that I was right. The changed rules for adoptions are in favour of the children. They will be protected and happier as a result. And the Minister was informed. If he had disagreed, he surely would have made his opinion known. Right, Minister?" The young woman turned from Augusta to the Minister, her expression searching for approval.
Cornelius had a look on his face as if he had eaten too many beans and now had trouble with his bowels. "I have the sad duty of informing you that I was never told about these changes, nor did I ever approve them. Your failure to follow the correct protocol has caused lots of unnecessary trouble." He took a deep breath before he gave the now really pale witch a stern look. "I'll have to ask your superiors to see how your performance in general is perceived. If you are lacking in other areas, the Ministry will do better without you."
They all watched without any outward reaction as Cornelius dismissed the young woman and she went, clearly stunned and confused. Augusta felt for Miss Summers. Yes, she had caused a lot of problems with her blind enthusiasm. But her idealism was something that Augusta could understand and accept. Some people wanted to do good and were willing to put in the extra work to reach their goal. Sadly, good intentions were no protection against something not working out as it had been planned.
"Well, that wasn't what I expected," Lord Slytherin said into the short silence that had spread as soon as the door had closed behind Miss Summers. "It took Miss Summers a long time to get a start on all those changes, if Umbridge started this before she became a professor."
"I wonder how she managed to change anything at all," Cornelius mused, preparing himself a new cup of tea. "Not one of those that had to work with her on the changes are people who normally are accepting of changes. There's no way that they would have worked with a nobody of an assistant."
Both Augusta and Lord Slytherin agreed with silent nods. Most of the witches and wizards working for the Ministry were set in their ways, and only accepting of change when forced.
"It feels a little too convenient that she is so clearly the culprit for these unfortunate changes," Augusta said slowly. But who would do this, now that Umbridge was out of the picture?
"I suspect we may have more problems with pushing our proposal through than we had thought." Augusta had to concede that Lord Slytherin was probably right. There was someone else still at work here, and that someone was clearly in opposition to them.
AN: Some time ago someone commented that the therapy sessions were too awkward, and therefore not close to anything real. I have never been a participant in any therapy sessions, so I don't know anything first-hand. But when I think about both Harry and Marvolo, they don't strike me as people easily willing to talk about their feelings, thoughts, and their reasons for them. So I reason that the whole sessions are awkward because both of them are unhappy and generally not the most emotionally mature.
But that's just me ;)
Thanks to Jordre and Jake for helping to improve my spelling!
First published on the 8th of June 2018
Next chapter planned for 22nd of June 2018