AN: So many people have linked the stork to the babies being delivered. :D I hadn't expected that. And it got me thinking. Do any of you know of another animal linked to babies the same way the stork is? I know that it's a pretty common image all over Europe, North America, and a lot of places where the British had significant influence at some time. I would love to learn of other baby-delivering animals.

oooOOooo

End of Winter

Thursday, 22nd of February 1996

The letter was written on something different than parchment. It could be very well made papyrus, almost of the smooth quality of good paper. But the material it was written on wasn't more puzzling than the words written.

Greetings,

I have thought long on how to start this letter and couldn't decide on a way to address you. It's hard to break habits of a lifetime but I'm sure you won't appreciate my use of the name given to you by your mother. After deliberating some more I decided simply avoiding any use of names probably would be the best.

A few days ago I had an unexpected visitor. He seemed rather fixated on fighting evil and at the same time seeing it everywhere. I have sent letters like this to a few individuals I feel need to know this and can be of assistance in getting the situation under control.

As the visitor's grief over one killed by a Death Eater seems to be the main cause for the fixation and questionable behaviour I thought it reasonable to send a warning to you. But at the same time I'm not confident in my own ability to judge the situation, so I decided to leave the name out. Please take the necessary precautions for your family's safety.

Regards,

Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore

The stork had left the moment Marvolo had collected the letter, and now the wizard was slumped in his chair thinking quickly. Before he could try to decipher that letter Marvolo had to put aside the ridiculous notion that had sprung to mind the moment he had seen a stork had delivered the letter. Considering the typical stereotypes, Marvolo had wondered for a single moment who had had the grand idea to use a stork to deliver news on an adoption. It certainly hadn't been that way when he had adopted Harry. Now that he had read the letter it was clear as day that his thoughts had gotten away from him. Even as he could see Mrs. Wisby deciding to add a bit of whimsy to the proceedings.

He had heard that Dumbledore was now living in a specialised clinic in Egypt, and storks were known to flew back and forth between Africa and northern Europe each year to spend summer and winter in the best climate they could find. It was curious that Dumbledore would select a stork to deliver his message but not out of the realm of possibilities.

It felt surreal that Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, the professor in his ridiculous suit who had set Marvolo's cupboard on fire as a questionable attempt to discipline the young wizard he had found there in the orphanage, would sent a warning. Not a warning to desist acting in a certain way, or to follow his dreams, or something other related to things Marvolo himself was doing. No! A warning of a danger – if real or not wasn't really the point at the moment – to him and those he cared for.

That the infuriating man had decided to keep the name to himself was only another irritating piece of the puzzle Marvolo was now determined to work out.

"Flimm!" Marvolo stood and called for the elf. He needed some tea to stay alert enough to comb the letter for any clues hidden in the text and then make a plan on how to get more information. For instance it should be easy enough to get information on who travelled to Egypt in the last two weeks, as most wizards and witches – and who else even knew enough to hate him – preferred to travel such long distances by portkey, and few had the ability to make one for themselves. So the Ministry registry should have the information Marvolo needed.

Flimm popped into the room, his toga fashioned from a white linen tea towel, Marvolo didn't manage to pass out his request for tea and fruit tarts before the elf bowed and started to speak. "Mr. Potions Master is here for Master Marvolo. Flimm shall bring Mr. Potions Master in?"

Severus was here? "Bring him here. And then bring tea and snacks for two, Flimm." Before he could get out a few words of thanks – since he had learned what a loyal house-elf was capable of doing, it had gotten a lot easier following Harry's example – the elf was gone. So Marvolo tidied up his desk before sitting down in his chair behind it.

The moment he was finished the door opened and Severus stepped into the room, walking around the bowing elf, only to go down on one knee the moment he was clear of the door. "My Lord."

Severus always had had a way to make this gesture of deference look so smooth and effortless, with his long dark robes pooling around his kneeling figure, his hair swinging gracefully with the motion. In the past he had loved to see someone as knowledgeable bow to him, and how Severus did so more gracefully than some of the oh so pure wizards from old families. But now – even as the gracefulness remained – the joy was gone. "Severus, come sit down with me. How do you like your tea?"

Barely showing a hint of confusion Severus stood, took the few steps to the chair Marvolo had indicated, and answered with a polite incline of his head. "Heavy on the cream and only one sugar, please. I hope to sleep tonight."

Marvolo smiled and set about preparing the tea to Severus' specification, levitating cream pitcher and sugar cubes without touching his wand. Some of his classmates had sneered at the unworthy use of wandless magic – equating what Marvolo had been able to do with the lowly work of the house-elves they had at home – but it had proven to be a remarkable tool to refine one's control over the magic, so Marvolo did use it as often as possible.

"What brings you here on a school night, Severus?" Marvolo asked as the finished cup of pale tea floated, directed by his magic, over to his Potions Master. The moment Severus had accepted his cup, Marvolo started on preparing his own.

"A stork delivered a piece of interesting mail to me this evening, my Lord. I thought it wise to share it with you." The younger wizard was composed as always, sipping at his tea.

"A stork?" Marvolo smirked stirring his tea so the sugar would have an easier time dissolving. "That sounds familiar. What had Albus to tell you?" That was interesting. Did Dumbledore sent that letter to even more people? Or would the information differ?

Severus carefully placed his cup and saucer on the desk, getting out a rolled up piece of papyrus from one pocket in his robes. "He wrote to me that Amos Diggory visited him and seemed not entirely stable. As he knows of my vow to protect your son, he thought it prudent to give me warning that there might be danger directed at the boy from Diggory's direction. He doesn't sound that confident in his observation, though." Severus held out the scroll for Marvolo to take. An offer he gladly accepted.

The next few moments were spent in silence, Severus drinking his tea and Marvolo reading the letter, searching for hidden meaning and comparing it – the wording, handwriting, length, offered information – to the letter he himself had received.

Aside from the name of the visitor, Severus' letter held a lot of my boys and idle chatter that Marvolo really was glad were missing from his letter. It seemed to be true that Dumbledore wasn't capable of treating students he had seen go through the halls of Hogwarts in his tenure as professor and headmaster as adults once they had graduated. He certainly hadn't appreciated the task of being a spy close to that man as much as he should have. Being treated as a child for all this time would have driven him insane. Severus had a lot more patience than people gave him credit for.

"Thank you, Severus. To my surprise, the letter he sent you only has one piece of information the shorter one he sent me lacked. So Amos Diggory is the one making Albus Dumbledore uneasy enough that he resorts to writing a letter to warn a man he regarded as a sworn enemy for so long." Furrowing his brow in thought, Marvolo re-rolled the letter and handed it back to Severus. If the man really was that unstable, it was a lot more likely that he really was the one who had supported Dolores Umbridge in messing up the adoption process and posing opposition to all the law changes Marvolo had pushed for in regards to werewolves.

"I have thought about the need to adjust security measures for your heir, my Lord," Severus said, stashing away the letter in one of his hidden robe pockets. "And beside making sure he doesn't leave the castle alone and maybe resuming guards during outings to Hogsmeade, I feel he should be safe enough while at school."

"Diggory has good reason to work towards revenge, and connections within the Ministry. I'm not sure I feel all that comfortable letting Harry roam the school on his own." It was suspiciously easy to admit his worry to Severus. Madame Goyle's assurance that it was normal to feel worry over a human close to oneself, and the need to share that burden with others, came to mind briefly, but he dismissed it in favour of concentrating on the conversation at hand.

"Since your son has been re-sorted, he is never truly on his own after classes. He's part of more than one study group, as far as I know, and spends a lot of his time studying in the common room or the library. It's his OWL year, after all, and he seems more dedicated to his studies than I have ever seen before."

Marvolo hummed, by all accounts Harry hadn't really strived to gain academic knowledge before. It had been obvious that this had changed the moment there had been an adult caring about his grades. "So you think there's nothing more to do than let Harry know that there is danger and where it might come from?"

Severus nodded, but Marvolo didn't let him go until they had discussed possible ways to harm Harry while at school or ways to get him out from the wards around the school. Severus looked worn by the time he rose to leave. "Please convey my sincere apology to your wife for keeping you so long."

Severus left with a smirk on his face, slowly shaking his head.

oooOOooo

Friday, 23rd of February 1996

It was Friday morning, the last workday of his week, and currently all there was to do was writing a few reports. It looked like he would be able to go home early. Kingsley really would like to do that. He loved his job, and the last weeks hadn't been all that stressful. But he had plans for this evening – a visit to a cinema and then a club – and could use the extra time.

Setting down his fresh cup of coffee on his desk in his cubicle next to the roll of parchment of the report he had finished before going to the restroom, he prepared to start on the next report and sat down. With a sigh Kingsley cast a spell on the spoon to keep stirring the coffee so that the sugar would dissolve and the coffee cool a little before he took a drink.

"What do you want?" Kingsley said to the wizard suddenly standing next to him with less malice than the words implied. "Is there something important?" He turned to look up to where his more or less official partner was standing, a smirk on his face.

Dawlish laughed. "Sorry to be a bother, but Scrimgeour wants to see us. I saw Madame Bones entering his office a short time before he came to ask me to get you and come into his office."

Kingsley felt one of his brows creeping up his forehead. Madame Bones went to talk with the Head of the Auror Department and just after that the two Aurors suspected to be part of two opposing political organisations – if he was generous with the definition of that – working together were asked to speak with their boss. If this wasn't more than coincidence, Kingsley was a niffler.

With a sigh Kingsley placed his quill down, closed the inkwell, let the report fall closed, and stood. "Any ideas what this is about?"

"Could be about the real culprit behind the whole adoption mess? Or something totally unrelated? I've no idea." Dawlish shook his head, and Kingsley nodded. As sure as he was – even though he still had no proof of any kind that would hold up in court – that the other was a Death Eater, Kingsley trusted his partner. When it came to work they had found that they agreed on a lot of things, if not on all. If Dawlish had had any idea what this was about, he would have shared.

Together they walked over to the Head Auror's office, many of their colleagues looking up from their work or chatter to watch them walking by. It didn't take long for them to reach the office and to step through the door, closing it behind them, instantly muffling all sound from the bigger office floor.

"Shacklebolt, Dawlish, thank you for being prompt. Madame Bones has received an interesting letter with a warning that we need to investigate. But please take a seat." The Head Auror waved his hand towards the seating group near the fireplace and they all moved to sit down. Madame Bones looked as if she were chewing on something, but sat down and left the explanations to Scrimgeour.

"Dumbledore claimed in his letter, one of a group he said, that Amos Diggory did visit him to complain over Dumbledore stopping his fight against evil." Kingsley had trouble believing this. Albus never had been someone to share information freely without need. It had been frustrating from time to time while the Order still held meetings. "While he himself wrote that he doesn't feel all that secure in his deduction," Dawlish snorted, and as much as Kingsley would have liked to disagree, he had to work hard not to roll his eyes in disbelief, "The fact that Amos' son was killed at the end of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, and ever since then Amos has blamed Death Eaters and later Lord Slytherin for his loss, lends some credence to the old Headmaster's claims."

That would be a good enough reason to at least investigate a bit. Kingsley nodded, because he knew fighting evil was a tricky business. It was really hard to see if someone was acting out of genuine fear, carelessness, ignorance, the need to defend, or actual evil intentions. It was too easy to define everything that one didn't like – for whatever reason – as evil.

"You have proven yourselves as a team capable of handling delicate political situations well." Madame Bones suddenly spoke up from where she was sitting, hands folded in her lap. "So I asked Rufus to assign you two as a team on this task. We need to make sure that Amos Diggory isn't readying himself to attack someone," Kingsley was pretty sure they all were thinking of the same probable target in that very moment, "or acting in any other way against the law."

"So he hasn't committed any crimes until now?" Dawlish wanted to know, leaning forward in his armchair.

"Not that we know of," Madame Bones answered in a manner that seemed to indicate her suspecting something she either had no proof for, or that wasn't a crime in the true sense of the word. She might know of some political actions that Diggory had attempted that she didn't approve of.

"Good. So it's more an undercover operation?" Dawlish seemed genuinely interested to take on this task, and Kingsley wasn't really reluctant either. The Order might have disbanded once it had sunken in that there wasn't any opposition that they needed to fight behind the scenes, as it were, but Kingsley still was dedicated to protecting their world from another war.

"That's correct." Scrimgeour confirmed.

After that they got to read the letter Madame Bones had received before being sent off to plan their approach to monitoring Amos Diggory and his actions without setting off a political avalanche by accident.

oooOOooo

Saturday, 24th of February 1996

It was a sunny morning, and the students were all walking down from the castle to the Quidditch field. The air was filled with laughter and the sound of many people talking. It was even louder than when everyone was on the way to the village. After all, the younger years were here as well.

Harry was walking next to Luna, a silly grin on his face, and her hand in his. She was almost skipping alongside him, outfitted with a hat and scarf in Ravenclaw Team colours. Harry was wearing a similar getup, except that his hat and scarf were mostly green with snakes in silver. Today's game was between Slytherin and Ravenclaw, and everyone was anticipating an exciting time.

"Who will win? What do you think, Harry?" Ron wanted to know. He and Hermione, as well as Neville, were walking with the mixed group of students.

Harry turned so he could see Ron. "I have no idea who will win, Ron. I know our team is good. But Ravenclaw is a good team as well. As far as I can see, we're looking forward to an exciting match!"

"And where do you want to sit?" Theo asked, a glint of mischief in his eyes. Harry grinned in his friend's direction, rolling his eyes. It seemed that teasing your friends about their relationships was a universal pastime of teenagers. Harry had seen it happen up in Gryffindor tower and down in the Slytherin dungeons.

"We've talked about it and decided to sit with the Gryffindors today," Luna answered in her dreamy voice, not turning to look at Theo or any of the others. "There we can cheer for both teams without stepping on too many toes."

That theory resulted in a lot of laughter and Harry had to grin. Cheering for Slytherin while sitting among the students from Gryffindor would be stepping on a lot of toes. But he was sure Luna had known that before suggesting they sit with the Gryffindors. "Sitting with one of the Houses not participating only leaves Hufflepuff and Gryffindor to choose from. And I simply have more friends in Gryffindor!" Harry once again rolled his eyes at his Slytherin friends, knowing exactly why some of them suddenly were so interested in where he was at all times.

People out to get him always had been a bother. But with a protective and influential parent, the irritation caused by people coming after him had increased. Marvolo didn't brush off the danger, but made sure all his followers informed their children – or at least those still going to school at Hogwarts – to keep an eye out for Harry.

It was nice – somehow – and infuriating at the same time. Harry was really capable of defending himself. And he certainly knew of the dangers of portkeys by now, he wouldn't just grab something handed to him by someone he didn't know, for instance. And the way the antagonistic seventh-years acted around him now was proof that his duelling wasn't all that bad either.

Theo nodded and grinned. "A snake and an eagle among the lions. Any objections to me tagging along?"

Harry rolled his eyes again. "I certainly won't curb your adventurous tendencies. You have too few of them anyway." Really, Theo didn't even try to hide his plan to protect Harry's back. Then Harry noticed Ron's surprised expression and had to concede that this plot may not be as noticeable at first glance as Harry had thought.

They reached the stands and split. Daphne, her sister Astoria, Millicent, Pansy, all the little first-years – they themselves hadn't been that small, surely – and the whole of seventh-year Slytherin split away to go up to their section of the stands. The Hufflepuffs went around the stadium to reach the stairs to their stands, as did the Ravenclaws. Harry had his hand tightly clasped around Luna's, as they and his friends turned right and started ascending the stairs.

The climb wasn't all that long, with them all traipsing up and down the many staircases of the castle on a daily basis, but it was still demanding enough that the chatter grew quieter for awhile.

They ended up with Harry seated next to Luna in the middle of the rows. Ginny sat down next to Theo with a "A Slytherin in the Gryffindor stands. How interesting!" instantly questioning him on his favourite team outside of school Quidditch. Ron sat down next to Lavender and her friend, while Hermione sat down on the other side of Luna, getting out a book filled with notes.

"Hermione!" Harry laughed incredulously. It was just like her to bring a book to Quidditch. "What?" she snapped back, blushing. "The game hasn't started yet, and neither you nor the Gryffindor team are playing."

"I'll hazard a guess that you'll be more attentive in a game that Viktor Krum was playing in." Harry laughed when his friend's blush got even darker.

"Oh, you! Stop it!" Hermione called out, trying for dignity but failing.

Before they could talk more, the enhanced voice of Lee Jordan resounded around the whole Quidditch stadium. "Welcome to the Ravenclaw-Slytherin game of this season of the Inter-House Quidditch Tournament!" A cheer went up all around the pitch, and Harry joined the calls with glee.

"And there are the players!" Lee went on in one of his usual tangents. When he went too far describing the female players in detail, he was chastised by Professor McGonagall, after which he returned to the usual sports commentary.

The game was exciting and pretty balanced. For a while the Slytherin team led, but Ravenclaw did get caught up quickly. When Draco made a sharp turn, as if he had spotted the snitch – which he hadn't – Harry murmured "What are you doing?" under his breath. This wasn't part of the patterns he and Draco had practiced during the Slytherin Quidditch Team training sessions. But as Cho seemed to be glued to Draco's side, it was possible that the blond was trying to lead her on a merry chase in an attempt to adapt what they had practiced to the current situation.

"Why does she do that?" Ginny suddenly asked from behind Harry. "She does know that shadowing the other seeker is a shoddy tactic, doesn't she? If you're better than the other, there's no need to shadow them all the time. Seriously!"

"Just because you dislike that move doesn't make it shoddy!" Theo argued, but Harry could hear the humour in his friend's voice. "It might go against your Gryffindor sentiments, but as she has a slower broom, staying close to the opposing seeker can work out rather well. If she spots the snitch nearby, she won't have to try to catch up to a much faster broom."

Ginny snorted. "But if they both spot the snitch at a distance, Malfoy will outfly her before they reach it, even if she spots it first. I can't see any advantage."

In the meantime Draco used his tag-along to disrupt a few of the Ravenclaw chaser plays, eliciting a few boos from Luna and her fellow Ravens. Harry had taken to cheering. Cheering for good moves played by either team, earning himself a few funny looks from those sitting around them.

When a chaser managed to throw the quaffle through one of the hoops, Harry cheered. When one of the keepers managed to save an attempt, Harry cheered. When one of the beaters managed to keep one of the bludgers from knocking a player off their course, Harry cheered.

It was a strangely freeing experience.

There was outrage when Gregory managed to hit a Ravenclaw chaser over the head with his beater's bat. Harry wasn't sure that had been on purpose, but he hadn't had the best line of sight, so he shrugged and decided to accept whatever Madame Hooch said had happened. In the end it was the referee who decided stuff like that.

How did one get to be a Quidditch referee, anyway? Professional players were scouted off the school teams a lot of the time, or from smaller leagues all over the world. Even from pick-up games. Trainers often were former players getting too old to play, but now with lots of experience to pass on to the younger players. But how did one become a referee?

Chambers managed to score the penalty shot, giving Ravenclaw the lead by a good forty points, the biggest lead one of the teams had gained so far.

Draco made a corkscrew dive in an attempt to draw Cho Chang along – at least Harry was pretty sure that was the case – when the other seeker flew over Draco and turned in direction of the Hufflepuff stands, Harry knew that Draco had outwitted himself. Cho had seen the snitch. And Draco hadn't even noticed yet.

That didn't bode well for Slytherin.

Just moments later Cho had caught the snitch and the game was over.

Three quarters of the school broke out into frenetic cheering, and suddenly fireworks were flying through the air. Blue and copper sparks, small cartwheels, words spelling themselves in the middle of the air, figures of small ravens flying about. It was glorious. Harry turned in his seat, and saw the twins, Fred and George, in the last row, shooting off more and more of their fireworks.

Harry was about to turn around to watch the fireworks at work, as Luna suddenly leaned into his side, moved her face really close to his and kissed him.

For a moment Harry felt as if he had been hit by a petrificus totalus. He couldn't move. Then he kissed back, unsure of what he was doing, but enthusiastic. When Luna moved back he felt light headed.

The moment he regained enough of his senses to notice what was happening around them he blushed. All the boys and a few of the girls near enough to have seen were calling out for them to kiss again.

He was surprised when Luna did follow those calls, initiating another kiss.

Now he understood why people spend so much time kissing. It was great.

ooOoo

"And then she kissed me. In front of the whole school!" Harry finished his retelling of the day's game, blushing again. Marvolo chuckled but didn't say anything. "Even those who hadn't seen it there knew by the time we all were back at the castle." Harry felt like burrowing his head in the pillow behind him, or the one to his side. Maybe he would hide under his covers for the rest of the term.

When Marvolo had the audacity to grin, Harry shot him a dark look. "By all I know about Xenophilius Lovegood, he's a decent man. Providing a platform for conspiracy theorists has thrown a light of suspicion on his publication, but what I have seen among the quite amusing theories are interesting documentations of folklore and almost forgotten knowledge." Marvolo chuckled when Harry gave him an incredulous look.

"Did you send someone to gather information on the Lovegoods?" Harry wanted to know. Did Marvolo just call the Quibbler an interesting publication?

"Of course I did. He was shuffled forward in priority due to the fact that you're interested in his daughter. Every Lord and Lady on the Wizengamot keeps close watch on people of interest. And every publisher is certainly on that list." Harry had known that. It had been part of the lessons he had had during the summer both from his grandfather's portrait and Marvolo.

Harry rolled his eyes. "I'm surprised that you haven't heard of this already. I'm sure it'll be in the papers in the morning."

"Even if the children have sent mail directly afterwards. Owls need a while to fly that far – there aren't many families living near Hogwarts – and then their parents would have to contact me." Marvolo tilted his head and moved to sit a little bit straighter. "But I agree with your assessment that it's likely for this to be the headline in tomorrow's paper. Are you unhappy about the kiss?"

Harry huffed. Was he unhappy? "I don't know. I mean, I liked the kiss. In fact it was great! But there in front of the whole school? I'm not so sure if I'm happy with that. It didn't really think about it… but now, in hindsight? I think I would have preferred a more private place?"

"Did you speak with your godfather?" Marvolo asked, and Harry chuckled, seeing the uncertainty in the other's ruby-red eyes. "We both know that I'm no expert in any kind of romantic interaction. Your godfather, on the other hand, could be named an expert, and certainly had a teenager's time nearer the norm than I."

Harry nodded. Marvolo had a point. "I spoke with Sirius before calling you. He said that it's nice to have a girlfriend who knows what she wants. And that it would be all over the papers anyway, so getting it over with quick is better. Not sure if I agree." And he really wasn't sure.

Being a teenager was really confusing.

"Well, Madame Goyle tells me again and again that the teenage years are a time to explore. The world, interactions between people, one's own self. All that." Marvolo waved his hand to indicate a list of further options. "Speak with Miss Lovegood if you want to avoid further displays like the one of today. I hear it's important to share and discuss such things to ensure a successful partnership."

Now Harry had to chuckle. Mrs. Goyle really was a miracle worker with unending supplies of patience. "I'll do that." Harry yawned. "How goes the adoption process?"

Marvolo smirked, obviously pleased with himself. "It's going well. I'll get information on when it can get finalised soon. I plan on having an adoption ritual similar to what we did for Nott's adopted son, Aiden. Are you willing to take part in that? I could arrange for you to have permission to leave the school grounds for the weekend. What do you think?"

Harry sat forward on his bed eagerly. "Of course I want to be part of the adoption! Marcus will be my little brother! I would be offended if you were to exclude me!" Harry tried to mock glare but had to yawn again.

"Go to bed, Harry. It's late. And even when you sleep in, you'll need all the rest you can get." Marvolo smiled. "And I'll make sure you can be there for the adoption ritual. No need to worry. And now go to sleep!"

"Sleep well, Father," Harry said in agreement – he was rather tired – and spoke the command to close the connection. He already had changed into his pyjamas, and only had to quickly visit the bathroom before he could slip between the sheets on his bed.

It had been a good day, but he wasn't looking forward to the morning papers.

oooOOooo

Monday, 26th of February 1996

They all were mingling in the rooms and halls located near the Wizengamot's chamber in their usual finery, talking – or as Marvolo thought to himself: gossiping – about the session starting soon, those who were not there yet, Quidditch results, social events, and other topics along those lines. Marvolo was pretty sure that people just out of his range of hearing were talking about this week's edition of Witch Weekly. As Harry had suspected, the kiss at the Quidditch game between him and Luna Lovegood had been interesting enough to warrant a whole two page article. There had been pictures from the Tri-Wizard Tournament, and they had reused the rumours they had spread almost a year ago. About a love triangle between Miss Granger, Mr. Krum, and Harry. About the families of them both – obviously – and if two unmarried wizards were capable of providing two young students with the necessary guidance.

It had been useless drivel.

But it had been expected drivel, and just this side of avoiding slander. The fact that Harry also had reported from school that the students really weren't reacting all that much had been enough in Marvolo's eyes not to take some steps against the magazine.

While Marvolo listened in on Lucius and Severus discussing the ongoing dispute over cauldron thickness, material requirements, and how silly that squabble really was, as all high-quality equipment was bought outside of Britain more and more, he watched as a disturbance made its way through the crowd. It didn't take long to become clear that the disturbance was Mrs. Wisby fighting her way through, politely using her elbows where needed, in search of someone.

"Ah, there you are, Lord Slytherin!" she shouted cheerily across the room the moment she spotted Marvolo. Waving for his attention, her attempts to clear a way through the groups between them became more ruthless.

That elbow looked pointy.

"I thought I'd come down here and inform you myself! Why send an owl out to fly through the city, when I know that you'll be here today anyway?" She was as sunny as always, and Marvolo felt himself starting to smile. There was only one message she would bring him with such an opening.

"The papers are finished and the adoption approved. You can come up after the session is finished. After you've signed everything, you'll only need to arrange for a date when Marcus can move from the school to your home." Feeling a little out of touch, Marvolo wondered if she ever was anything but cheerful. Then what she had said sank in fully and he used Occlumency to keep calm. "Can I expect you after the session, Lord Slytherin?"

With long practice Marvolo managed a smile which looked real enough to fool all but the best politicians. "If the session doesn't run too long, I'll come by your office before I leave for home." Thankfully Harry already had decided that Marcus would get the room next to his, and Flimm had cleaned it and outfitted it with all new comforter, pillows, curtains, and other things a young boy would need in his room.

"That's good. Just drop me an owl if you need to make other arrangements." She patted his arm and was gone after a quick "Have a nice session, Lord Slytherin," in his direction.

"She is something else," Severus remarked drily. "Such a sunny disposition even after years working at the Ministry. Do you think she might have some pixie blood?"

Lucius snorted. "And her friendly demeanour is nothing more than a front to lure us into her trap? Or have I missed something about the nature of Cornish Pixies?"

Severus shook his head, smirking. "I don't think you have, Lucius. But for all that they cause humans harm for fun. I never heard of a pixie being glum. Have you?"

Marvolo listened and watched as his two… friends kept bantering all through the rest of the wait, before the door opened and they all went into the hall. He wasn't paying that much attention, though, as he went through all that needed to be done if he wanted to bring Marcus home sometime this week – maybe Friday would be best – and hold the adoption ceremony on Saturday. For one thing, he needed to make sure Harry could come home for the weekend. Then he needed to instruct Barty to write up and send out all the invitations, Flimm would have to clean the room once more, and prepare food for the adoption ceremony. Maybe they should hold that at the manor. It was possible that there would be a lot of people willing to come, he couldn't very well send people away… His thoughts were racing, even as he was occluding heavily to keep calm and maintain a clear head.

He sat down on the silver bench with its snake legs, barely remembering the cushioning charm that was needed if he wanted to still feel his backside when the session finally would be over in a few hours. Pretty soon the usual aimless shouting matches, bickering, and disagreements started. Some topics had been discussed again and again over decades by now, and if no one stepped in, they were brought up again and again.

Today Marvolo had his mind elsewhere as the impending adoption was of greater importance than whether there was a need to limit the number of Quidditch teams one individual, or family, could own. That drew him out of his mad planning for a moment. It seemed there were rumours that the owner of the Falmouth Falcons was contemplating buying the Chudley Cannons. The possible disturbance of the balance of the league seemed to be a big concern.

Snorting, Marvolo returned to his inner musings. With Marcus moving in now, he would be there for the spring holidays and therefore during the time Marvolo had planned to use for the next test of his ritual. He furrowed his brow. He should step up the security measures. A healer on hand was all well and good, but he probably should also include a curse-breaker. Maybe Bill Weasley would be willing to assist. He clearly was competent enough to be of help.

Maybe Harry's wish to visit with his godfather could be used to have both boys out of the house during that day. Marvolo would have to ask Lord Black if he was willing to take care of more than one boy, one of them just about to turn six, for a few days while trying to get to know his own daughters?

There was no other way to know than to ask.

In the end the meeting was over a lot quicker than Marvolo had anticipated. But that was the way of things when one was planning life-changing events.

Deep in thought, and not in any danger here in the halls of the Ministry, Marvolo only had distracted greetings for his follower-friends – all of whom grinned knowingly – and walked in the direction of the lifts.

Before he could reach them he was called. "Marvolo! A moment please!"

Surprised, he turned. Not many women called him by his given name. And that voice had been from a woman, he was almost certain. Amelia Bones was quickly catching up to him, plum robes billowing around her legs. As it would be extremely rude to simply walk on – and he was curious – Marvolo waited where he stood for her to reach him.

Once she was within arms' reach, Marvolo gave a bow from his neck. "Madame Bones."

She smiled, bemused, and then waved her hand. "Please call me Amelia. Don't you think that's more than reasonable by now?"

Well, that was a surprising move. But even though he might be the elder – technically – the fact that he had been declared newborn not even a year prior, and that when two people were close in age, it usually was the woman's decision to offer the use of first names, it was a socially acceptable move.

He arched a brow. "Amelia then. But I think we should consider that this could give credence to the rumours that we might be courting."

Rolling her eyes, Amelia shook her head. "We can't prevent them from gossiping. But after we have fought together, on the same side, mind you, it would be odd to stand on formality."

"I don't have any reasonable objections. Amelia. But I doubt that this was the reason you wanted to speak with me." He really wanted to go up to Mrs Wisby's office to sign the papers, and then go home. He needed to inform Harry and start on all the preparations.

She gave a short nod, and her demeanour changed from easygoing to serious. "I received an interesting letter from Egypt. The content is concerning, and I have decided to relay a few of the warnings given."

So Albus had sent the letter to Amelia as well. For the fraction of a second Marvolo wondered idly if that was the extent of the letters the former Headmaster had sent regarding his unexpected visitor.

Considering that there were still people lingering, Lords and Ladies gossiping or simply avoiding going home, Marvolo got his wand out and raised a quick silencing ward around them.

Now it was Amelia's' turn to give him a questioning look. Without waiting for her question, Marvolo started with his explanation. "I got a letter from the same place on Thursday evening. The warning inside was both pretty clear and explicit as well as vague. He didn't mention any names. I guess your version was a little more informative?" He had suspected that Severus had received a version with the name, because the Potions Master was bound with a vow to protect Harry to the best of his abilities. It was only reasonable to assume that the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement rated even higher on the trust scale.

She nodded, folding her arms in front of her chest. "He did. And I already set our best team of Aurors on this. I'm pretty sure you'll learn of it soon." Her smirk was tiny, but there.

Marvolo gave an unapologetic shrug. "I can't control what people tell me. So I already spoke with Harry about why we need to increase security once again. He is a remarkably patient teenager. Or so the parents I know assure me."

Amelia chuckled. "I can't say that Susan is all that patient most of the time. But your son has more reason than most to accept guards."

A solemn mood came over Marvolo – all those emotions were hard to get used to – he was, or had been, one of the reasons for Harry's acceptance of the need for guards and other forms of protection other teenagers didn't have to bother about.

"When Marcus moves in at the end of the week, I'll need to find a way to make a young boy understand why he can't go wherever he wants without an adult at his side." He had to speak with Xerxes regarding arrangements at the school.

Amelia had a gentle smile on her face, and it was reaching her eyes. "I don't think he's unaccustomed to the concept, Marvolo. He's young. And congratulations on the adoption going forward."

Marvolo inclined his head in acknowledgement. "Thank you. I promised Mrs. Wisby to drop by her office on my way home. She said just before the beginning of the session that the papers were ready." His spirits lifted again. Hopefully the feelings he constantly had to deal with would stabilize once he absorbed the next part of his soul. He didn't even dare to imagine what it might be like if the opposite were to happen.

"As you already know to be more careful, I don't want to keep you any longer." Amelia said, moving to the side so he had a clear path to the lifts.

"At the moment I plan to hold an adoption ceremony on next Saturday. I would feel honoured if you would consider attending, Amelia." Some invitations should be delivered in person, and this was a prime opportunity to do just that.

For a moment the witch looked contemplative. "I don't think that I have anything else planned for that day. Please send me an invitation by owl. Have a nice day!"

oooOOooo

AN: The adoption made a jump forward I didn't expect. But I think it fits rather well at this point. I guess it's pretty obvious what a big part of the next chapter will be ;)

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

First published on the 30th of November 2018
Next chapter planned for 14th of December 2018

Last edited 13th of December 2018