AN: It has been really hot lately. And there was no rain so it's dangerously dry. I hope you can enjoy your summer/winter. I would prefer lower temperatures :D

oooOOooo

Letters

Thursday, 25th of January 1996

The first thing Marvolo saw on the dinner table that evening – beside the delicious smelling stack of waffles waiting for him – were two letters placed near his plate. Normally letters were taken to the study, seeing that Flimm thought these important enough to be placed on top of the evening edition of the newspaper made Marvolo quite curious.

He walked over to his place, sat down and had a look at the letters, while floating tea into his cup with nary a thought. Just seeing his own name on the two envelopes cleared up who had written to him. He would recognise Henry's improved but still unpractised letters anywhere, and the spiky hand of his Potions Master was so distinctive there wasn't a shred of doubt of who had send the letter.

Getting out his wand to cast the detection charms that had become second nature quite some time ago by now, Marvolo made sure that no one had tried to tamper with the letters. He had come to rely on Flimm and trust the elf, but it always paid to be overly cautious. He didn't really like the man, but Mad Eye Moody had a point with his cries of constant vigilance.

Taking a sip from his tea – maybe he should add another spoon of sugar – Marvolo contemplated a few scenarios which could result in him receiving a letter from his son and the boy's Head of House at the same time. It couldn't be something too serious as Severus wouldn't have dared delaying to inform him by patronus or equally fast means, and Henry had the mirror to communicate much faster than by owl post.

So maybe something formal, but not urgent?

He decided to read the letter from Severus first, as he was pretty sure that whatever the man had to tell him, he would do in a short and comprehensive manner. Teenagers were prone to rambling and overly emotional displays. At least what he had witnessed in the past and been told since he had adopted his son indicated that was the case.

A quick, weak, slicing charm cast without his wand, broke the seal, and with a practiced flick of his wrist the letter was out and unfolded.

For a moment red eyes moved quickly over the letter the tension slowly seeping out of Marvolo's shoulders. It was indeed nothing serious. The letter had been sent in the morning, just after breakfast ended and before the start of lessons.

Severus had thought it soon enough to inform Marvolo – Severus had written in his role as Head of House and was using suitable address and wording – of a small altercation which had taken place the evening before in the Slytherin common room. It seemed that Henry had handled that rather well. Maybe it wouldn't even be necessary to take action to remind the parents of those careless students what Marvolo was willing to do in defence of his son.

But he could maybe arrange for a social event – dinner would be nice – and let a comment drop regarding this. Bragging about the skills of one's child was something accepted and even expected in their social circle, after all.

A small smirk danced over Marvolo's face as he imagined the reactions he would get to see if he did that. Surely they would panic for a moment and try to hide it. It would be delicious. He would have to consult with Barty to find a date for that dinner.

After this short report from Severus – not actually demanding any action on Marvolo's part – Marvolo expected to find some longer winded recounting of the same event in Henry's letter.

But the letter had quite a different topic. And was written in the flowing script of the almost slithering lines of Parselscript.

Dear Marvolo,

While we have spoken many times about the things happening in our lives from day to day, we seem to avoid some topics quite successfully.

I know that this is a rather un-Slytherin way to go about this, but I feel that there isn't really a good way to express what I feel we need to do while being subtle about it, and making sure that there isn't any way for my words to be misinterpreted.

Soon our family will grow to include Marcus, and I feel we need to clear the air between us concerning the past we share, the present and demands and expectations placed on us by others, and the future we wish for.

Considering some of the topics, and the possibility of tempers flaring, I think it might be good to have Mrs. Goyle on hand as a kind of mediator and translator. She always has helped me understand how I feel, and why that might be the case or what the cause. I hope she'll be able to do something similar for the both of us.

It might seem odd that I'm writing a letter for this, but some things have been going around in my head for some time now, and despite the fact we speak each day, I haven't found the courage to bring them up. Writing everything down has some advantages that speaking face to face lacks.

Hoping to hear from you soon,

Henry

PS: please pass on greetings from me to Nagini

Marvolo slowly put the letter down onto the table. Oddly enough the fact that Henry hadn't said anything about the confrontation in the common room stuck out the most to Marvolo.

Of course he couldn't deny that there was a lot Henry and he didn't talk about. The capture, torture, and subsequent captivity of Karkaroff hadn't been discussed. Despite the fact that Henry technically had been present as the Carrows had brought him in. And that the man had died just a short time ago hadn't been mentioned either.

Marvolo hadn't tried to keep the continued existence of his Death Eaters from Henry, in fact he had accepted a few calls in the middle of Death Eater meetings and was sure Henry had realised what had been happening at the time. But they never actually had talked about that.

Of course Marvolo had made sure Henry knew which families had strong ties to him – implicitly admitting that they had at least one marked Death Eater in their family – so his son would know who was bound to help him if needed.

And Henry had seen more than once how his Death Eaters had greeted him formally when he had called them via their modified mark.

But in the end, these observations Marvolo had allowed Henry to make didn't really replace actually talking about it, and allowing Henry to ask questions.

Was it wise to allow this talk, that had a big potential to turn into a confrontation, to happen? Marvolo wasn't so sure. The escape of the Death Eaters from Azkaban could come up. If Henry asked the right questions, the death of Bellatrix – his decision to sacrifice her – might come up. Or that the Lestrange brothers really weren't dead after all.

On the other hand, he might have to turn the question around.

Would trying to ignore the obvious need Henry had to talk about things be a good idea?

It had been the tactic Dumbledore had employed, which had backfired on him spectacularly. So the answer was a resounding "no". He couldn't ignore this polite request for a confrontation.

But before he went back to his study to write a letter back – it seemed appropriate to use the same line of communication – Marvolo would eat his dinner. No reason to let good food go to waste.

While he ate, Marvolo started to compose a letter to Mrs. Goyle to inform her of Henry's wish to have a session with Marvolo present to talk about topics concerning them both. Maybe he should review the secrecy contract he had made her sign. It was best to make extra sure that nothing incriminating talked about between him and his son could make it to the Auror Department.

It was late into the night when Marvolo finally went to bed, shoving a grumbling Nagini to the end of his bed to make room for himself. Writing such carefully worded letters, and reading legalese were time-consuming activities.

With a sigh, his familiar wrapped around him, Marvolo slipped into a restful sleep, aided by a small dose of a sleeping draught.

oooOOooo

Up in the room they shared with two other girls, Nawel was braiding the hair of her sister Enora with careful motions and patience, just as their gran had taught them. Most of the time the braids held for more than a week, but they redid them frequently anyway.

It was comforting.

Enora was holding the latest letter from their mother in her hands. Silently contemplating the contents. Beside the fire and the click of beads nothing disturbed the quiet of their dorm, as the others hadn't made it here yet. They probably still were in the big communal bath enjoying the steam bath, or the bubble pool.

"How do you think the meeting will go?" Enora asked out of the blue, still fiddling with the letter, making clear what meeting she was referring to.

"As I don't truly know anything about that wizard – that isn't rumour, anyway – I really can't say," Nawel answered, giving a shrug with one shoulder even though her sister couldn't see that she did so. "But I'm sure that maman will ask a lot of questions. And demand answers." Enora gave a humming sound of agreement as her only answer. They both had been curious who their father was as long as they could remember.

Speculating about him, why their maman hadn't been able to find him, what he was doing for a living, had been one of their favourite pastimes when they couldn't quite go to sleep in the evenings. Lying in bed and spinning fantastical stories of their father the superhero, prince or king, wizard, or maybe even spy, just like James Bond, had filled many hours.

Now the letters from their mother had given them facts, but the story still was fantastical. Just as if it had been plucked right out of one of their favourite fairy tales. A young man at odds with his family, wrongly accused of betraying his friends, imprisoned for a long time, managing to escape, found innocent, and then finally searching for his lost daughters. If they wanted, that could be the plot of a tragic play, or a romance novel.

But it was hard to believe that it was actually the truth.

Finishing another braid with a large bead, Nawel tried to formulate what was on her mind. "I remember what those who went to Hogwarts last year told us about the stories told over there. How the Blacks were in league with that Dark Lord. How it just was clear that Sirius Black had to be the same, that it was only natural that he would betray those he called friends…" For a moment she struggled with the words, "I fear that the British might expect us to be what they think a Black witch should be. A family cursed with insanity."

"Don't!" Enora demanded. "You know as well as I do, that those stories get bigger each time they are told. And these are stories told here for their shock value, right along with the stories about the tasks. Dragons, Merpeople, Acromantulas. A Sphinx! Don't borrow trouble. We'll get to meet him, and then we'll see."

"So you want to meet him?" Nawel wasn't so sure about that. She was curious, there was no doubt about that. But at the same time she feared what she might learn about the man who was her father.

What if he only wanted to use them to have an heir?

She always had wished for a father who wanted to know her, spend time with her. Therefore those stories making him out to be struggling, fighting, keeping away to keep them safe, had always been the ones she preferred over those he was the powerful hero in. Because if he could be there for them, why wasn't he?

"I want to meet him. Wouldn't it be terrible to look back, I don't know, ten years from now, and ask what if? And we still have to make that paternity test. Until now all we have is the word of a wizard we don't know that there is an ancient tapestry claiming we are the daughters of Lord Sirius Orion Black." Enora patiently explained, as always, she simply was the more level-headed of the two of them.

Now Nawel made the humming sound of agreement before starting on the next braid. First they would wait for what their mother had to tell them about the man claiming to be their father. Then they would see.

oooOOooo

Friday, 26th of January 1996

"It's nice of you to visit, Elphias." Albus greeted his newest guest, doing his best to appear well on the mend, even as walking up from the door to the living room had put a little bit of a strain on his body. He was working on regaining some of his stamina, but it was slow going.

"Why wouldn't I visit a good friend?" Elphias said in a mock offended tone, playing up the act with a hand placed to his chest, right over his heart. "And I hoped we could talk a bit about the gossip making the rounds at the Ministry." With a huff Elphias dropped himself to sit in one of the faded armchairs. Albus really couldn't understand why his brother insisted on keeping the colour scheme of the rooms so dull, using mostly variations on brown. Leather, wood, nothing but browns.

"Rumours?" Albus inquired, trying to not sound too eager. Even with all the time he had spent reading current publications, and the newspaper each day, nothing could replace what people were talking about in hushed voices and behind closed doors.

"Yes. Somehow it seems as if nobody actually was responsible for pushing forward those uncompleted changes to the adoption procedures once Dolores Umbridge had been sentenced to the kiss. Some speculate that a vengeful spirit was left behind, sabotaging everything with the dark energy generated by her need for revenge."

A vengeful spirit? Albus snorted at that thought. Dementors consumed souls in their entirety, there would have been nothing left of Dolores Umbridge after a kiss. "So all agree that she is the only one responsible? Truly? What an easy out for all who simply went along with the changes without thinking of the consequences." Of course Albus knew that most who had been needed to create such a mess probably only had gone along with it to gain the favour of a more influential person, or because they had been gullible enough to fall for some scheme. It still was cowardly to hide behind a dead person.

"You know how it is, Albus." Elphias waved Albus' concern away. "It's easy to claim ignorance, or even to maintain ignorance, if you just go along with the madness that is the bureaucracy of the Ministry these days."

Nodding to this – it was just too true – Albus expertly shifted the topic of their conversation from one to another until he had heard all that interested him. By then they had consumed an entire pot of tea and a plate of different pastries.

They exchanged pleasantries and then Albus was alone again.

So the initial efforts to change the adoptions had been started by Dolores Umbridge using the naive Miss Summers as a tool. But for all Albus knew about those things, the young muggleborn girl never would have been able to wield the influence necessary to effect all the changes that had occurred.

Elphias had said that by now so much time had passed and everyone had spoken with almost everyone else, airing their different ideas over who had done what for which reasons that it had become impossible to untangle the mess.

Albus wasn't so sure about that and got out a piece of parchment and his quill to start writing a letter to the Minister. Maybe he would be able to get to the root of this mystery if he went for the one most interested to get to the bottom of it. The fact that the Minister hadn't known – Albus knew that Cornelius wasn't good enough of an actor to pretend otherwise – could harm his standing with the other officials in the Ministry, possibly endangering his position.

Hopefully Albus would learn who had meddled there and for what reasons. Whoever it had been could be a threat to his own plans, or an asset, depending on the reasons behind those actions.

oooOOooo

With quick, big steps Sirius hurried through a cold Paris on the way to the place Olivienne had selected for their meeting.

He wasn't feeling all that well, in fact he was decidedly nervous. For one, he was in a suit, formal muggle clothing never had been something he liked any better than formal wizarding robes. Then there was the fact that he hadn't been able to get a look at the place they were meeting in, because her decision had come via letter practically at the last possible moment. It had been meant as a gesture of goodwill on his part, but it seemed that she had used his willingness to let her pick a meeting spot as a way to unbalance him.

Way too Slytherin a tactic for his taste.

Anyway, dwelling on what made him feel nervous wouldn't make those things go away. So best he concentrated on what he hoped to gain from this meeting. Some more knowledge about his daughters and their mother, as well as permission to meet the girls and speak with them.

That Sirius didn't really know what Olivienne might hope to gain from meeting him was only another point adding to his nervousness.

Maybe he should have accepted Moony's offer of coming along, after all, having an ally at hand might have been a good way to keep his nervousness down.

Finally Sirius stood in front of a café that matched the address he had been given, and that looked like it was a cosy place. Steeling his nerves, Sirius strode over to the door, opened it, and went in, starting to undo the buttons of his coat. It was a lot warmer in here then outside, where a slow drizzle made the weather rather unfriendly.

A short sweep of the place confirmed Sirius' first impression. This was a cosy place. And in a corner, overlooking the whole room, sat a woman who matched the description Sam had given him of Olivienne Moreau, stirring some hot beverage in a big cup.

Now the game was on. There never was a second chance at a first impression, and Sirius really wanted to make a good first impression now that the circumstances had changed so drastically. In the end their first meeting had been back then, and the fact that Sirius didn't remember a thing implied that he probably hadn't left a good impression at all.

Taking a deep breath, Sirius walked over to where the woman was sitting, a – hopefully – polite smile on his face.

"Olivienne Moreau?" Sirius asked, giving a small half bow in her direction.

"Oui." was her answer, her dark brown eyes wandering up and down over Sirius' figure, assessing him and making him want to squirm as if Professor McGonagall was about to start berating him for a prank. "I assume you are Sirius Black?"

Even her voice managed to instil the dread that the formidable Transfiguration Professor always had managed. Not that Sirius ever had let it show.

"I am," he answered with another short bow. His voice was steady, but he was pretty sure the fact that he had bowed twice by now, betrayed his nerves.

A slim elegant hand waved towards the bench opposite the one she was sitting on, a clear order only underlined by her demanding, "Please be seated."

Placing his coat over a hook on a wall nearby, Sirius opened his suit jacket, and slid into the bench. Olivienne and he watched each other over the table without words for a moment. She was as striking a figure as Sam had claimed her to be, and she probably would be able to cow any man who dared crossing her. If she had been as commanding when they had met back then in that club... Sirius could clearly see what had attracted his attention that night.

"How was your journey? Did you have a pleasant flight?" She clearly wasn't driven by the fear of silences that he had so often seen displayed by the witches clamouring for his attention. They never could stand a silence, starting to talk about something if he just stood there watching but not speaking. Now it was he, unable to stand the silence.

"The flight was fine. But the difference in temperature was, as it always is, a shock. Weather in Europe in January is always so unpleasant," Olivienne answered, and the two of them fell into meaningless talk about the troubles of long-distance travel, the unpleasant weather, and Paris until the waiter had been by to get Sirius' order and then deliver the hot milk-coffee and the pastry that had been recommended.

"Can you do something to keep eavesdroppers away?" Olivienne asked, vaguely waving her hand through the air, clearly referencing magic.

Sirius nodded. "Of course." He got his wand out, cast a look around to make sure no one was watching, and then cast a spell that had made the rounds among the students at Hogwarts their seventh year. "Now what we speak of will go unheard by others." He didn't even know how to address her! They had children together so given names seemed appropriate, but he didn't want to appear to assume too much. It was an altogether awkward meeting.

"Since your investigator came to my mother's house, I have asked different people to tell me what they know about you and your family," she began, sending Sirius' stomach into a plummeting fall. That could have set him up for failure from the start. Because why would a decent person want to meet with an ex-convict – however undeserved – and the son of as dark a family as the Blacks always had been known as? If she approved of such a background, he might not want to make one of the twins his heiress after all.

"The picture they painted was rather… chequered. So I decided it would be best to get your story right from the source." Once again her eyes travelled over Sirius. "My impression was that of a man trying to live life to its fullest. Now that I know of the war raging in Britain at that time, I believe that I understand why one would adopt such a mindset. But I need to know who you are now. So please, share why you think I should let you be part of my daughter's life."

So she was an even better person than he had any right to hope for. Taking a sip from his coffee, Sirius contemplated where to start and what to tell. It was too long a story to include everything. He would need to stick to the highlights.

Trying to keep his composure, Sirius started. "I guess most of what's said about the Blacks isn't entirely off the mark. All the halfway decent people tended to be thrown out rather quickly in the last decades. One of my cousins was thrown out for falling in love and marrying a muggleborn wizard instead of going along with the marriage arranged for her. They have a lovely daughter, who's working as an Auror." Sirius stopped himself from telling the story of all those thrown out, but hoped that this one story was enough to show, that aside from the official image, there was more diversity in the family.

"I ran away from all the pressure to comply with the family line, as I was heir, and support the pure-blood ru… propaganda, when I was old enough to truly understand the implications. The fact that neither my mother nor father would have won any parent-of-the-year awardS, especially after I had been sorted contrary to family tradition, only contributed to my wish to be elsewhere. Looking back; the only thing I regret about that is that I left my younger brother behind. Judging by all that I learned since I came back, he wasn't as lost and unredeemable as I had thought at the time." A short and familiar stab of pain reminded Sirius of his guilt in this. Maybe if he had stayed, Regulus wouldn't have joined the Death Eaters, later being killed in an attempt to topple Lord Voldemort.

Another sip from the excellent cup of coffee braced him for the next part. "I joined a vigilante group fighting against the terrorist group known as the Death Eaters, because I felt that my position as an Auror would help them, and that the corruption inside the Ministry was already too widespread for the Ministry to be able to do anything about it." Sirius sighed. "Many of my closest school friends joined as well. And it soon became evident that our chances were slim at best. People were vanishing, turning up dead, killed in gruesome ways… I think your assessment of my motivation for searching out company in the clubs is spot on. Death was a real possibility at any time."

It had been an intense time. Filled with excitement, battles, the feeling of doing the right thing, fighting the just fight.

Sirius shook his head. "The foolhardy recklessness that led me to run away from home, join the Aurors, and fight as part of a vigilante group, also led to me being arrested and sent to prison. I had a lot time to think in my cell. And since I was freed by the actions of Lord Slytherin… I'm still working on growing up." Sirius dared to look up at Olivienne, only now noticing how he had avoided looking at her while talking about his past. She had a mask in place that would easily hold up to any Ministry function or Wizengamot meeting. There was nothing to read there but polite interest.

"The fact that I was still in line for the Black Lordship and all the influence and wealth that comes with that, was unexpected. But as my godson – Harry Potter, you may have heard of him by the moniker of the-boy-who-lived – was adopted by Lord Slytherin and I was confronted with the need to do something to help him, I accepted the responsibilities I once ran from." Sirius sighed again. There was no way Olivienne would agree to let him meet the twins. "I try to do good with the influence I now have. I want to improve laws governing the rights of children and those affected by lycanthropy, right wrongs done in the past. I'm not sure that it's working, but I try."

Sirius fell silent, and after a few moments started to eat his pastry, so he wouldn't get up from his seat and start pacing.

Why wasn't she saying anything?

"Well, this gives me a good overview of what you think about yourself. But not one reason why you think it is a good idea for you to meet my daughters." And still there was the calm and intense tone in her voice.

Restraining his errant thoughts which wanted to run down totally inappropriate pathways – that voice in the bedroom, a shame he couldn't remember – Sirius nodded. She was right. "Yes. Now that I know that I'm a father, I feel that it's my responsibility to offer them the possibility to get to know me. They are old enough to decide for themselves if they want to stay in contact with me. I dearly hope that they will allow me to be part of their life. Much too late, I realise, but as neither of us knew where the other was... " Sirius trailed off. He would have loved to claim that he would have acted differently that night – not chasing after Peter – had he known about the twins, but he wasn't all that sure, and didn't dare lie. He shifted in his seat, the leather of the bench creaking, and placed his hands flat on the table to stop himself from drumming them nervously.

"I see that you are now enough of an adult to dress respectably," Olivienne said with a smirk and a wave indicating his suit.

Sirius chuckled despite himself. "I have a good friend I can ask for advice if I need to dress for something other than a Quidditch match, or a visit to the bars and clubs." Removing a piece of imaginary lint, Sirius smoothed a small fold in the sleeve of his jacket. "Dressing the part of a responsible adult isn't easy, but I'm willing to learn."

"I fear that will have to be enough." Olivienne said, suddenly serious again. "I'll write to the girls and see if they want to meet with you. As they are currently in school, we will have to arrange something with the school if they don't want to wait till the next holidays. Until then," she got out a notepad and a pencil, "I wish to know more about what being an heiress entails. What comes with being part of the Black family, and what other things might impact the girls if they should agree to this."

Getting out a few documents Sirius had prepared in advance, he started to answer all that Olivienne wanted to know. He had changed the rules regarding the appointment of an heir only slightly to include a clause removing the need to have graduated from Hogwarts. He indeed had been surprised to find that no one could be excluded based on gender, or being born outside of a marriage, paired with the requirement of attending Hogwarts, it had been a curious mix. Especially if compared to some of the rules other families had. Slytherin needed a boy speaking to snakes as an heir, the rules were truly absurd in some cases.

They spoke for hours before they went their separate ways with the promise to keep in contact.

oooOOooo

Saturday, 27th of January 1996

"Man, why would you stay here? It's a Hogsmeade weekend!" Ron complained after Harry had explained to his friends that he was heading up to the Hospital Wing. "And I thought we could all go together. As a group."

Harry rolled his eyes at his friend. "No one keeps you from going as a group when I stay behind, Ron. I have an appointment with Mrs. Goyle, and lessons with Professor Snape after that." They had reduced the number of sessions for Occlumency lessons as Harry managed better and better. But as he expected the meeting with Marvolo to stir up feelings, generally being unsettling, Harry had asked the Professor if he would be willing to help him meditate after the meeting was finished.

Surprisingly enough, the Potions Master had agreed. For all that old resentments between them sometimes flared, they both got along much better now.

"Can't you move the appointment?" Ron almost whined, making Harry wonder why it seemed so important that Harry go with them.

Waving at where the others slowly were drifting towards the gate – only Neville and Hermione still lagging behind – Harry asked with more than a little incredulity. "If you want to go as a group, then why are you standing here, by me, when I'm staying at the castle, and those going to the village are almost out the door?"

With a hastily called goodbye, Ron ran after the others, leaving Harry standing in front of the doors to the Great Hall, shaking his head. Ron was odd sometimes.

Harry turned and walked up the big staircase surrounded by the younger Gryffindors and Ravenclaws on their way back to the tower, excited to have their common rooms mostly to themselves as the older students were down in the village for at least the morning.

When Harry arrived at the Hospital Wing, Madame Pomfrey smiled at him, waving in the direction of the room that they typically used for their sessions. "They're both already here. I'll make sure that you're not disturbed."

Harry nodded his thanks, walked up to the door – which was closed and probably warded – and knocked on it.

"Come in!" Harry was called to enter by Mrs. Goyle, and so he did.

He felt more nervous than he had in awhile. A feeling that was only slightly lessened when he came to see the familiar setup of art supplies, comfortable seating, and beverages to help soothe a dry throat.

"Hello, Mrs. Goyle." Harry bowed in her direction, turned after she had returned his greeting so he was looking at Marvolo where he sat with a cup of tea in hand, and hesitated only for a fraction of a second. "Father."

"Hello, Henry." Marvolo greeted back, and Harry thought he might have seen a flicker of uncertainty in the other's eyes. Dismissing this as a trick of the light, Harry walked over to the last empty armchair in the triangular arrangement, and sat down.

For a moment no one said a word, and Harry felt decidedly out of place for all that he had been the one to ask for this opportunity.

Finally Madame Goyle started the conversation for them, filling her role as mediator and moderator. "We are here because Harry has asked for an opportunity to talk about a few things on his mind with Lord Slytherin, face to face. I have signed the contract binding what might be said here today under even more stringent protections than the other agreement of confidentiality I signed at the beginning of our sessions. So, if Lord Slytherin is happy with the wards on this room, you can proceed, Harry."

Being put on the spot like that wasn't exactly helpful, so Harry jumped to ask the question that came to him at the mentioning of an additional secrecy contract. "You signed another contract, Mrs. Goyle?"

She nodded with a serious expression. "I did." Before Harry had to ask the obvious follow-up question the therapist continued of her own volition. "It seemed to be the sensible decision, considering what might come up in this discussion, and that helping you and your father work through this will do our society more good than my responsibility to inform law enforcement of dangerous plans I might get information on, could."

This statement was delivered in such a calm manner that Harry needed a moment to decipher that she actually had decided to keep crimes secret from the Aurors, because she believed that was better for everyone in the long run.

Harry blinked slowly, mostly ignoring the smirk on Marvolo's face, preparing a cup of tea to his preferences. "Right." That certainly set the stage for what he wanted to talk about. "It's actually quite hard to speak about." If something was hard, start by saying it is. This technique had helped getting into a flow a few times already, so Harry used it almost without actually thinking about it. "There have been hints, of course. Actually, some of them were pretty obvious. Like when one of my calls interrupted a meeting, or how the Healer, or the Professor, bow from time to time when in private… But the fact that the Death Eaters still exist in some capacity I'm not sure about, makes it harder for me to accept that… my wishes and feelings regarding how Marvolo and I interact have changed so much." Ignoring – if even only a bit – that Marvolo actually sat right there next to him, helped talking, and Harry felt that he was starting to be carried away by his words, no longer needing to force them out, but actually trying to keep up with them.

Harry only registered vaguely that a hand raised by Mrs. Goyle stopped Marvolo from interrupting the flow of words, now easily coming forth.

"How can I accept and keep silent about a man who tortured others into insanity, getting a second chance to live as a secretary? While my friend is almost an orphan because his parents are in hospital, barely aware? How can it be that I feel worry about the man in whose name all those atrocities were committed?"

His desperation became pretty obvious in his tone, his pleading for a way to cope with those conflicting feelings. The guilt, the happiness.

"Because it's great that someone actually cares about my grades, how my day was, what my plans are. But while most of the bad things happened in the past, done by Voldemort, Marvolo isn't the law-abiding man he pretends to be. Or is he?" The last was directed with quite a bit of force towards Marvolo, who still held his cup of tea delicately in his hands. His wand nowhere in sight.

Harry's green eyes were fixed on Marvolo, tracking every movement the man made.

"I'm not sure if I really understand the divide you're feeling." Marvolo sounded cautious, speaking slowly, as if he was tasting the words, weighing them to see if they matched what he wanted to say. "And I'm not sure I can provide the reassurance you need. But I'm willing to try."

Harry sat on the edge of his seat, hands wrapped around the armrests, gripping maybe a tad too hard. He was willing to listen, as Marvolo really was a different man. Voldemort never would have even considered speaking about this. Hell, the man never would have treated Harry with even a shred of the attention or kindness he had been displaying more and more regularly.

"As I told you, the Dark Mark was created by my using a bunch of different spells, bindings, and rituals, taking what I wanted and mixing in whatever I found might be useful. At the heart of it all is the old fealty binding spell that was used by our family back in the time when families bound themselves in service to another, more powerful, family to the mutual benefit of them both." Harry nodded because that was in fact something that Marvolo had told him before, trying to explain why he hadn't handed over the escapees the moment he had found them. "Many have been led astray by what I told them while I was Voldemort. I harmed them. Erased all the potential good they might have done, because my actions landed them in prison in the end. To take your example, Barty had serious trouble with his father. He never was good enough, didn't get any of the affection and attention he needed. I used that to get him to do my bidding, to warp him and his view of the world to my ends." Shakily setting his cup down, Marvolo folded his hands in his lap, gripping so hard that his knuckles turned white. "And he wasn't the only one. Your godfather's younger brother. He had potential. My actions led to his death, led to the deaths of many people, all of whom could have done good, would have done something to influence our society." Marvolo looked up from the floor he had been staring at and locked eyes with Harry. "My bond to them as my vassals compels me to right the wrong I have caused them. The vow I made as Lord Slytherin binds me to doing what I think is best for our society. Killing or causing the deaths of even more people isn't what is best, I clearly believe that. Everyone who can have a positive impact on our world should get a chance to do so." He swallowed. "I know you have realised how some tactics that the most righteous of people would condemn for being unfair, or underhanded, or just this side of illegal, are needed to get things done."

Marvolo paused, and Harry realised after an awkward, tense moment that he was waiting for a confirmation. So Harry nodded. "Grandfather Potter has said as much, as has Madame Longbottom. She said that some people are just disagreeable out of spite, disagreeing with everything one person brings before the Wizengamot just because they have brought it forward. And that sometimes it's necessary to outmanoeuvre them. But that doesn't include murder." Of the last point Harry was certain, even if other stuff he had been sure about in the past had vanished in a confusing mess of grey.

Marvolo inclined his head in a contemplating manner. "Maybe not. But you need to know that in the times this spell of fealty was created, it fell under the Lord's purview to decide how one of his people should be punished if they broke his law."

Now it was Harry who swallowed. He might have known that in an abstract sense. They had talked about early British history in school. But hearing a teacher say something about a regional Lord having the jurisdiction under their control was vastly different from a man sitting just a chair over, telling Harry he felt justified deciding if someone had to die because they had committed to being in service to the man.

"There has to be a better way!" Startled by his own outburst, which had made him stand and take a step towards Marvolo, hands balled to fists at his sides, Harry shakingly opened his hands and took a step back, almost falling back into his chair with a huff.

A mirthless laugh from Marvolo startled Harry even more. "I'm not sure if you'll believe me, but I did try to find another way to cope with Bellatrix and her madness."

Harry felt a brow rise in silent query when the old Lord Yaxley wasn't mentioned together with the mad aunt of Draco. So Marvolo had tried to find a way to help Bellatrix Lestrange, but no way to avoid killing Yaxley? "And I shall believe that the old Yaxley killed himself out of shame?" The scepticism was so thick in his voice that even Ron would have noticed, one of the least Slytherin of all the people Harry knew well in their year.

"The investigation clearly showed that he was the one handling the phial containing the deadly substance. There was no evidence of force found," Marvolo answered, and Harry just knew that other had been there, pressuring the wizard to kill himself. It was in the way he held himself, the way he spoke, the inflection some of the words were spoken with. It wouldn't hold up in court, but Harry was sure nonetheless.

Funny how one learned to read people by simply keeping company of people doing the same constantly.

"We both know that a true Slytherin with enough time would make sure not to be caught." Harry tried for a collected tone, but was pretty sure his effort fell short as he noticed a small, short flicker of amusement on Marvolo's face.

Would the other answer truthfully? The fact that Madame Goyle had been asked to sign another contract indicated that he intended to do so, at least. "Where is the difference between Bellatrix Lestrange, killing many, torturing two people into madness, escaping from prison, and a man leading a life conforming with society's expectations – at least on the surface – that makes one worth saving and the other not?"

Harry felt himself breathing faster, as if he had run to make it to a class, while he waited for Marvolo to answer him. A small part of him still expected to be told off for daring to ask questions – thankfully that part had gotten smaller since the summer – making him tense and anxious.

"Well spotted, and a good question." Marvolo's praise came unexpectedly, and Harry hadn't really much time to regain his footing before Marvolo continued to speak, not giving any hints to how he might be feeling about all of this. "Nothing Bellatrix did before or shortly after my fall went against the orders she had been given. Once I was back, having regained enough sanity to feel the demands of the bond between her and me, I started to feel pressure to do something about my failing her." He paused just long enough for it to be noticeable, "And the others.

"I tried everything I could come up with to help her. Only sacrificing her for the good of the others once there was no avenue left, and she started to go against my newer orders."

Once again Marvolo had his eyes trained on the floor, his hands gripping tensely at each other, the pale wand nowhere in sight. "Corban Yaxley, on the other hand, acted against clear orders more than once." Harry remembered the fact that Septimus had been ordered by his uncle to marry a witch once he had graduated from Hogwarts even though he knew that Septimus had no interest in women as he was gay, going against an order Marvolo had given out. But what other order had he disobeyed?

There had been those witches abducted by a few wizards. One of those wizards had been Corban's son, if Harry wasn't mistaken. Did the late Lord Yaxley have something to do with that?

Nodding, Marvolo confirmed Harry's thoughts, probably following them by reading Harry's facial expressions. A little chagrined, Harry realised that he had let his guard down quite a bit, as he did every time he went to one of the mind-healing sessions. "Yaxley seemed to think that the way those young wizards acted was right and in accordance with my will. I couldn't let that stand, because I do not condone kidnapping, rape, and slavery."

In the wake of that forceful declaration, silence settled on the room.

Harry tried to sort his thoughts. Would the Aurors have made the connection between the late Lord Yaxley and his son's actions? The man had managed to evade Azkaban after Voldemort had fallen. He probably would have claimed that his son was a big disappointment and that he had known nothing.

One thing about the current system of wizarding Britain was pretty clear to Harry by now: if you had money and a respectable family name, you could get away with a lot.

And hadn't he decided to let some things go?

"Under what circumstances would you consider killing another human?" Harry asked the question without really acknowledging the reasons for why he wanted to know.

Marvolo thought for a moment, picking his cup back up – which started to steam once again – taking a sip, before answering. "In a situation where I would be forced to defend myself or others, I might feel that there's no other way. But I have noticed while defending the Burrow, that it would need to be a really skilled opponent, or many of them, to leave only lethal means as a way to keep those safe who I want to keep safe. Currently I'm just so good that there are few who could pose a challenge to me." A clear smirk graced Marvolo's face. "Why deny myself the challenge by using spells that are easy to cast, but lethal, when I can capture and incapacitate aggressors?"

Was that good enough?

Hermione probably would have bristled because Marvolo hadn't simply said killing was wrong and he would avoid it at all costs.

But just as only ignoring a bully wouldn't stop them or keep them from bullying a more entertaining or easier target, claiming to never to be able to kill because it was wrong, fell short of the truth, ignoring some important points.

Was their situation perfect? No.

Was it easy? How could it have been?

But maybe it was good enough.

Marvolo was willing to explain himself to Harry, and his reasons seemed sound. More or less, at least.

"I feel that we have become a family since the summer. As much as we probably can at this point." Once again Harry was picking his path carefully, trying to avoid possible pitfalls and stumbling blocks. "And once Marcus comes to be part of that family… His question why you call me Henry when my name is Harry got me thinking… I want you to call me Harry." Now it was out. And suddenly the fear that Marvolo would reject that offer, even when he had said he wanted to be invited to use "Harry", overshadowed everything else. It would be horrible to be rejected now. If Marvolo refused to accept their closeness, denied it had been happening, Harry wasn't sure what he would do.

That fear vanished as fast as it had materialised when Harry saw the open, blinding smile on Marvolo's face. "I thank you, Harry, for granting me this privilege. And I hope you realise that I'm willing to answer all questions you might have, or at least that I'm willing to listen to them all, should you ask something I'm not at liberty to discuss. Even regarding those individuals bond to me by the fealty spell. It only recently occured to me that once I have undone all those rituals keeping me tied to this world, it's quite possible that I might die before all of those bond to me die, which would lead to their bonds falling to you as my heir."

Horror at the thought of being the one in charge of Barty Crouch, or the two Lestrange brothers, the Carrows, his Potions Professor, overshadowed his joy that Marvolo had accepted to use his nickname.

Harry later wasn't really sure how he had managed to get to the Potions classroom where Professor Snape was already waiting for him, leading him into a deep meditation Harry so desperately needed right now. He only knew for sure that somehow Luna had been waiting for him, being a calming presence at his side the whole way down to the dungeons.

ooOoo

After Marvolo had retrieved his wand from the ornate box Madame Goyle had brought with her, he said goodbye to Harry – it felt so good to be finally able to use the more familiar address – who clearly seemed to be quite distracted and beside himself, and made his way to the edge of the grounds.

Instead of going home to Griffin House, Marvolo apparated to Headquarters, where he walked into the duelling room.

While he had made sure all secrets would be safe, speaking about all of that with Harry, witnessed by the Mind-Healer, had been nerve-wracking. Confronting his own feelings, his errors of the past, was terrifying. Harder than fighting of a Lethifold, or seeing a boggart take on the form of his own corpse.

Would that still happen?

Marvolo conjured up a statue made from porcelain in the form of a faceless man just to let it explode into a cloud of fine, white dust. He needed to get rid of the nervous energy that had build up over the duration of the conversation.

Having feelings was so damn hard. But it brought so much good along with it.

Ceasing to think for a while, Marvolo just conjured and destroyed one faceless statue after another until he finally was so tired that he felt calm at last.

oooOOooo

AN: I'm sure at least a few of you expected a much more violent confrontation. But Marvolo and Harry have spent so much time working on their coping mechanisms, their ability to keep their tempers, ways to work through their problems, that they just wouldn't let me write a confrontation getting out of hand. I kind of like this restrained but somehow still tense confrontation with a silent referee at the sidelines :D

And for another question: one Reviewer asked for translations to be presented right after the piece of text in a language other than English. I'm torn about that and would like to know what you all think on that. Break the flow by providing a translation right then and there? Or make you skip and possibly ignore the content of a piece of foreign language text providing a translation for the curious at the end of the chapter?

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

First published on the 3rd of August 2018
Next chapter planned for 17th of August 2018