November 1997

Severus stood in his private study, frown sculpted upon his face. Settled upon a comfortable, wingback chair in front of a roaring fire, he stared at the small, innocuous journal. Dark, navy leather, supple and soft, wrapped around the light sepia pages. Two owls sat close together, cuddled and content, in beautiful silver line work. Warmth and awe bloomed every time dark eyes caught sight of the little book. Past alarm at the rate in which the witch wormed past his defenses, Severus took to a tried and true Slytherin tactic; self reflection and analyzation.

Two weeks passed since Samhain. A pair of baffling, contradicting weeks. Amber liquid danced along the sides of a crystal snifter, eyes gazed unfocused at the happily crackling fire. It began the day after the holiday, as he sat in this subdued study with Draco, taking afternoon tea with the young man just like every Saturday for the past six and some years. After dissecting the week past, panic seized Severus' chest as the boy took the, albeit rather empty, journal, admiring the workmanship. Instead of the scant lines of text he sent her when he returned that morning to the castle, Draco made his 'over my head face,' and remarked upon the complex alchemical formula.

"Uncle," the boy chuckled, "Only you would take such an exquisite, fine piece of stationery and turn it into a research journal. At least the enchantments ensure that a rogue potion won't ruin the beautiful workmanship. Wherever did you get it?"

Profound relief flooded his chest, though years of spying and Slytherin guile kept any trace of it off his face as he answered. The next day, something similar happened with Alecto Carrow, who had taken to propositioning him at all hours. Her sickly face grimaced, hands pawing at his person and possessions. With more incriminating conversation, though surprisingly cryptic, warmth washed over him once more. All the while, he could only think, you brilliant, brilliant witch.

Since, Severus found no reason to be parted from the journal. A ping echoed in his head, and anticipation swirled in his stomach. Yes, these quiet evenings before he took to stalking the halls brought great joy and relief to his life. The candle floating in the ever growing darkness of his life. They danced around identities and names, describing events without revealing the players. The potions master found himself enthralled by the little game.

His mind flickered to the past few months. Just as she appeared to know Severus' identity before they exchanged journals, he knew her. A stiff drink slid down his throat, burning a pleasant path to his stomach. For months he grappled with the thought of it being true. Despite what people thought of him, Severus possessed a conscious. An annoyingly loud one, if he did say so himself. It absolutely railed against the idea of bedding a student, let alone forming such an intimate connection with one. A student, he often reminded himself, that should have been in school this term. Crackling suffused the dark room, mind lost to the past.

June 1997

Dark eyes watched the sun dawn on another Midsummer. After the murder, assisted suicide the old poof said, a wry thought snorted, of his mentor, Severus had delivered Draco to his mother, safe and unblemished. After a round of punishment for not allowing our young Mister Malfoy the chance to prove himself as the Dark Lord so eloquently explained, he slipped out to hide as instructed. Never did Severus follow an order faster or with more enthusiasm.

Few knew that over a decade ago, he became the last of the Prince line. Goblins didn't care for wizarding politics, and even less so for pureblood nonsense, thus releasing the lands, fortunes, and titles to him. Ever frugal, always opportunistic, and inherently secretive, careful moves, stolen weekends, and investments saw his vaults grow. Over time he sold the properties beyond help, being almost all of them, and reinforced the small cottage at the edge of the Irish festival grounds. For the past two weeks, Severus recouped, mentally and emotionally.

Yet, the holiday tugged at him. Even now, the magic of the site, subdued into wispy tendrils, called to him. One of the few bright spots of his childhood were his mother's stories of the Wheel of the Year. How muggles believed in one God now, but from the years before Merlin, honored magic, and the Wheel. Childhood dreams lead to youthful curiosity and discovery. He and Lucius went to a Midsummer's festival between sixth and seventh year. Where the blonde aristocrat saw a charming festival, Severus felt the pulse of ancient magic in his blood. Ever since, he never missed a holiday if he could help it.

As the sun crested the sky, magic tugged at the dark wizard, bringing him to the grounds not far off. Already, a palpable energy pulsed through the verdant clearing. Old acquaintances nodded their greetings, exchanging perfunctory conversations. A particular mixed couple, muggle and witch, gave him a knowing smile and mentioned that maybe this year he would find his other half. He scoffed at the pair, who only tittered and laughed before swaying away.

The romanticism of the Wheel drew him to it, though he'd never admit it. Those stories of couples finding themselves their other half still filled his mind, his mother's voice dreamy and wistful. Even as an adult, Severus hid some hope, even from himself. He dreamed, on more than one occasion, that Lily would come to the festival and find that he was her match. Needless to say, it never happened. Almost twenty years later, and magic never so much as induced him to notice anyone from the headache of badly blended colors.

Power drew him again and again to the celebrations. Connection with the world, the feeling of being part of something bigger filled an empty part of him, fed his soul and kept him going. Year after year, faces changed and aged, new ones gathered, yet the euphoric sensation of raw magic never changed. Misery, unfair treatment of Slytherins, and ancient magics, those were the constants of Severus' life.

Like the magic addict he was, Severus wandered to his normal boulder near the path that led from his cottage. Beautiful hues arched across the sky, trailed by the inky blue of night. Fanatic fervor drew to a fever pitch, as drums and strings and voice rose and fell in jaunty, rhythmic harmony. Not even he, a man thought to have no soul or emotions, resisted to tap toes in time. Then, full night descended upon the clearing, and all emotions and magic pulled taught, a bowstring pulled back, waiting to be released. Drawing to his full height, dark eyes followed the processional only three people to his right.

Robes fluttered in the balmy, fragrant breeze as the solemn elders floated towards the center of the gathered men and women. Taking their places, powerful chants filled the air. Energy rose and fell, a living, electric current, connecting and feeding from everyone gathered with its shocking embrace. Eyes fluttered shut against his own volition as wave after wave of ancient magic flowed over and around him. Ecstasy blinded him as the leys used those gathered as living conduits.

Music sprung up, laughter bellowed all around, and even a few sobs punctuated the air. Emotionally spent, as always he felt for a few moments, the dark wizard leaned against his typical haunt. A small, genuine smile bloomed across his distinct face, living completely in the familiar, pleasurable moment. While the dancers twirled, and the merry makers laughed and drank, Severus communed with magic, felt it's caress within every cell of his body.

A soft sigh preluded the opening of eyes to the scene in front of him. Just as every holiday for every year, colors of all different hues, tints, and saturation blended into a bizarre facsimile of a painter's palette. Organized chaos undulated, some colors vibrating against each other as others smoothly complemented those near. A sudden stop came, body tense, senses alert and on edge. Anticipation tingled through his veins before Severus even knew why. Not realizing he began to move, air caught in his throat. Across the fire stood a woman, and, unlike the garish, neon-esque colors of the others, her warm, earthy ambers and burgundies beckoned to his very core.

Unable to stop, not willing to try, Severus met her halfway, knowing she saw no other just as he. Legs lead past her, the warm, pleasant tingle close behind. He heard stories of such things. True magical mates were rare, but gathered and gossiped for the festivals like old ladies at tea parties. Just as his mother's whispered words, their stories wove a type of idyllic, romantic ideal he never believed he would possess in his lifetime. Even now, his God firmly at the forefront of his being, Severus could scarcely believe he found her. His other half. His soul mate.

Removed from the main grounds, rational thought bled into the instinctual. Bright, glowing light illuminated the clearing, and the beautiful creature before him. His God murmured and cajoled, seduced and enticed with honied words and silky tones. Small hands answered his questing touch, fire and desire boiled his blood, lost in a moment of time. Hands roamed the woman magic chose for him, peaks and valleys in all of his favorite places.

They came together, magic sparking and arcing, bodies moving in time. Even without knowing her face, Severus could not imagine a more enthralling, erotic sight. Abandoning the last of his coherent thoughts, the God took full control, leaving the man to the intense pleasure and bliss. At last, when thoughts began to clear, and breathing came easier and slower, Severus held her close. For one night, he prayed, let me have this acceptance for just one night.

oOo oOo oOo

A few hours later, the sounds of the musicians dying to it's final songs alerted the man in the clearing to the time. An arm propped his head and torso up, as Severus imprinted this moment into his mind. The task Albus set before him, he knew, assured a short life expectancy. If Minerva and the staff didn't kill him by Yule, then the Dark Lord would by the end of the year. The God and Goddess showed him mercy, he sighed, allowed him this one, timeless moment before he entered hell on earth.

Leaning down, with a tenderness he typically did not feel, lips brushed against a smooth forehead before he regretfully stood and gathered his cloak. Tucking the transfigured quilt around her, heels turned and stalked out of the clearing, back towards his own momentary refuge.

A part of him, a very large one, wanted to know his Goddess' identity. Magic clung to the people gathered, whether awake and dancing to the final farewells of the holiday, or asleep in various states of undress and sobriety. Something about her magic felt familiar, more than just the God and Goddess within them finding one another once more. Like a homemade blend of tea once tasted and always remembered, but unable to place. Yet, the practical voice on his shoulder asserted it kept him safe. It wouldn't do for his other half to wake up only to attack him. Especially, if she did know him.

A soft snort swirled behind him as Severus left the grounds, entered his cottage, and promptly fell into bed.

July 1997

Severus snorted, leaning back as he watched the flames in the grate of Spinner's End. The old, dilapidated house, kept together by magic, duct tape, and a prayer, became his work address, as it were. Told, in no uncertain terms, that the Dark Lord had need of him soon, Severus left the peaceful cottage behind. The sun glowed through the hazardous smog of the neighborhood, slowly sinking into the western skies.

Wild, crazy thoughts flew around his mind, making occluding something of a challenge. Ever since the Midsummer celebration, Severus spent the time torn between wondering if the whole thing were just a particularly cruel, vivid dream, or almost pining away. The later disturbed him the most. Fiercely private and always independent, part of the taciturn professor rebelled, and quite strenuously, against this foreign yet natural need. It ebbed and flowed, growing as the tide, and, he surmised, with the degree of need from his mate.

When feeling particularly whimsical, or late at night, scenarios played out upon the cinema of his mind. Severus knew himself to be possessive and covetous, guarding precious treasures with jealousy befitting a dragon hovering over his hoard. If not already disgusted by his looks, admittedly made worse by lack of proper care and a few well placed glamours, women had the proclivity to be rather frightened of these character flaws. At the best of times, he became overprotective and high handed. At the worst, manipulative to the extreme to achieve his goals. In this case, his instinctual mind continually whacked its conscious, rational counterpart to protect what was his.

All in all, when the mark burned upon his skin, Severus welcomed the pain. Clarity returned to the chaos, galvanizing the man towards a single purpose. Thoughts properly locked within his mind. Soon, he stood before the reptilian overlord, stroking his cold blooded ego. The Order were to move Potter tonight. Severus knew, because he was the one who accosted Mundungus and implanted the idea. Allowing a self satisfied smirk to flash across his features, a small crowd of 'chosen ones' followed behind their leader, a grotesque duck leading his equally disturbing ducklings to water.

Disillusioned, all thoughts and emotions drained from Severus. Inky blackness arched above him as keen eyes could barely make out a single star in the face of all the light beneath them. A sedan of some sort pulled from the driveway. A starling call directed two scouts to investigate. Moments later, they returned, a silent confirmation that none in the vehicle were Potter. Instead of chasing after for sport, the group of anxious Death Eaters hung in the air, circling the house.

Without a moment's notice, a sizeable group burst from the wards. Seven Potters, a wrinkle Severus did not anticipate, ducked and dodged, casting at the cloud of black velvet and silver leafed porcelain. A knot formed in his stomach, wand arm waving and casting, trying to innocently deflect Death Eater's attempts at his secret (even to them) comrades. A well aimed curse stripped him of his mask, earning the ire of all the Potter-protector duos in his vicinity.

Yet, even as he ducked and dodged and barrel rolled swerving as the Dark Lord screamed into the night, flying fast, the need to protect reared, ugly and loud. Somewhere, amongst this throng of combatants, his mate flew. The delicious heat and tingling anticipation danced across his skin, egging him closer to her, only to be detained by several nasty hexes and curses. Deciding that the Dark Lord flew too far forward for him, and that most of the rear guard were too busy to notice the Potters in the back had split off, Severus thought it a good time to turn around. He would need time to organize his mind before facing the Dark Lord.

oOo oOo oOo

Later that night, Severus laid upon the lumpy, oddly damp mattress at Spinner's End. Alone and able to fully review and analyze the night, his throat tightened and stomach twisted anew. She had been there. In danger. If not for the immense relief his God felt hours earlier, Severus wouldn't even have a clue as to whether or not his other half lived through that fight. The only Order member killed that night happened to be Moody. However, that did not take into account any fatalities brought about by damage sustained in battle. Yet, somewhere deep down, he knew her to be alive. Safe.

When the immense wave of relief left him nearly dizzy and content, his damnably rational mind started to piece together the puzzle. No matter how much he accused various Gryffindors of being nosy, insatiable curiosity certainly ran in his house. The difference being, Slytherins were often never caught. This absolute need to know, and then to use said knowledge to his best ability, kept Severus awake, staring at the cracked, yellowing ceiling.

With the bread crumbs falling into his lap, Severus redrew his mental lists. Her magic was familiar, which, as a member of the Order, or someone closely affiliated with it, would make sense. The major demographic of Dumbledore's little group consisted first of men, and second of Gryffindors. Often being true on both accounts. Of the thirteen slots available to rescue Potter, seven were undisguised. Moody, Lupin, Weasley child the eldest, and Hagrid were among them.

Very few women would have gone. Molly would refuse, wanting to keep Ginevera from the fight and worrying about her family all the while. The Veela would have been amongst them, as would Nymphadora. Yet, he couldn't see magic choosing such a person to be his mate. Agreeable enough, Severus found her cheerful clumsiness rather off putting. It remained a marvel, even to him, that she managed to pass his N.E.W.T. classes, let alone became a successful auror. Indeed, he remembered that the metamorphmagus pined for Lupin. It seemed unlikely that a creature, with an absolute bond to a partial creature, and a Hufflepuff would be his. Minerva certainly did not attend, and Mulciber reported Hestia Jones one of the Dursley's escorts. Which left-

Dark eyes widened. No. Absolutely not. Not in this life or the next. No. No no no no. Nononononononono! Panic seized him, vision blurring at the thought of him with her. There was no way, absolutely no way in hell, that she could be his mate. The memory of that night burned in his veins, tattooed to the back of his eyes, and lived through his touch. Fingers mapped a distinctly adult, womanly form, not that of some adolescent teenager!

Some lines were not meant to be crossed, and Severus prided himself on keeping to those boundaries. Students were not to be touched. Period. Not in anger, not in hatred, and, perhaps especially, not in lust. Not six weeks ago, his supposed mate sat in his class, subdued in maturity her younger self could never manage, acing his brutal exam before fighting for her life as he waltzed over to kill the Headmaster.

Shame, guilt, and self-loathing flared strongly within his breast. Even the elated contentment of his inner God couldn't dampen the torrent of dark thoughts. What pleasure was there in this? What had he done to deserve such a mate? Someone he couldn't think of as anything but an irritating child? Drowning in despair, Severus flopped to his side, clutching one pillow to his chest. His soul mate, personal Goddess, and other half by the most ancient and sacred of magics turned out to be none other than Hermione bloody Granger.

"For fucks sake," he growled, equal parts exasperated, resigned, and enraged, into the slowly lightening room.

August 1997

The last days of July passed in a state of constant drunken rebellion. A large part of him took to disparaging the girl who became the bane of his existence. It was just his luck that the one truly inspirational, awe inspiring moment of his life since Lily had to be tainted. The fact that the girl, his mind spat each time he referred to her, happened to be Potter's little hanger-on did not help.

The only relief, Severus found, was his return to his cottage the night before. For whatever reason, the Dark Lord deeply respected his potion masters' devotion to the ancient ways. Resentment and relief warred with protective concern, feet wandering around the grounds during the day. He knew the Weasley family planned their son's wedding for that day, which meant his lovely and wonderful mate couldn't attend. At the same time, the Dark Lord saw fit to make him aware to the fact the Ministry would fall, and to expect an invitation to return to Hogwarts as its new Headmaster come fall term on Monday when he returned from holiday.

Which meant, as nervous knots formed in his stomach, that they were all in trouble. This lead to the fact that, despite his desires not to, he cared. He didn't want to be worried about what would happen at the Burrow that evening. He didn't want to need to know if a certain bushy haired teenager made it out of there safe. Severus especially despised the fact that, should she fall now or in the future, his God would forfeit his life as Severus pined away for her. A low growl ripped out his throat as he turned to find a familiar couple.

"Why so distraught, my friend," the man asked, a genial, paternal smile upon his face. "Is it about your mate?"

"I have no such person," Severus just kept the hostility out of his voice. "I know not what you speak of."

"Of course you do, dearie," the woman spoke up. "Quite the kind young lady. Humored us with our gardening talk for almost two hours, the dear."

The dark wizard blinked in surprise and alarm.

"Quite interested in what your lot calls herbology, I believe," the man nodded. "Is she somewhere nearby? She made some rather interesting insights into some of our more normal plants. I'm sure she would love to hear the results."

"Pardon, but-" he attempted to speak, incredulous bordering on alarm.

"You don't have a mate?" the woman raised a sardonic, silver peppered brow. "The mark is upon you. There is no hiding it from others the God and Goddess blessed. We've been at this longer than you've been alive, young man. I see you were not pleased with Their selection. And what of she?"

"I couldn't-" a thoroughly wrong-footed Severus babbled, bright spots of color dotting his cheekbones.

"He left," the man chuckled, exasperated and bemused. "Honestly, friend, how did you figure it out, if you did not actually see her?"

"If you must know," his usually silky voice ground out. "We are acquaintances of a nature and I felt the awareness during an altercation."

"And she said nothing?" the old woman inquired.

"Neither of us had the chance," he hedged.

"To say anything to your other half?" she asked once more, amused, sardonic brow raised.

"It was rather heated," he huffed, crossing his arms defensively. "And we were on opposing sides."

"And yet, she displeases you," the man spoke, eyes piercing his very soul. "Why?"

"She is -should be- a student of mine," the reply. "An older, more mature student, but a pupil, all the same, one I did not particularly like. In addition, it is morally wrong to be with her, as it were. Even if I were not old enough to be her father."

"Perhaps," the woman murmured, watching Severus with wizened eyes, "You have simply not given magic enough credit. It makes no mistakes, is infallible, and matches to our best interests. Give this student of your's a chance. She just may surprise you yet." With an impish smile, she continued, "And it is a well known fact that we women mature far faster than boys. It may just be that she needs a man in her life. Don't count her out just yet."

With an almost audible gulp, Severus quickly steered the conversation to safer waters, all the while dread built within his gut. He waited for evening to turn to night, lithe form leaning against his boulder at the edge. Just as Apollo took the sun beneath the trees, a spike of panic shot through him. For an hour or so after the rites were chanted, he felt nothing else. Eyes never truly saw colors, hears deafened towards the jubilant cries of revelers, and mind far north. For the first time ever, Severus did not enjoy a festival.

For all of their faults, Severus still didn't want anyone to die. Ice flooded his veins at the thought of her being captured. The Dark Lord's wrath barely held a candle to what Bellatrix and Lucius would do to the girl, if captured, and Merlin help him if Dolohov got a hand on her. The more he denied caring for the girl, the more he worried for her. As he sat upon his boulder, Severus buried his face in his hands and thought. Hours passed in silent contemplation, the power of the festival, grounding and calming.

Give her a chance, the woman had said. She may surprise you. Yet, how could he do just that? His God wanted to do more than just give her a chance; wanted to find her, hide her, and hold her tight. The practical voice still put up every reason this would not work. Age, differences in station, personality, house, and emotional availability worked against them, not to mention the political climate; why should she even trust him? His pouty, surly, pessimistic voice added that she wouldn't want him anyways, not someone so young and free, who held more potential than any other student he taught.

Yet, as the moon set, and predawn darkness covered the clearing in its loving embrace, a small, persistent part of him kept on with one single mantra: magic made her your's. A single, damning fact that threw everything else out the window. Every objection fell to the soft, steady, strong insistence. Thoroughly confused and tired, Severus made his way to his cottage and thought. A large part of his psyche continued to strain and flail at the idea, and yet…

He sighed and opened the bold, blue door.

oOo oOo oOo

The staff meeting went just as planned. Severus left the siblings at their quarters before sweeping up to his office, thoughts of the gathering fresh. His fellow educators appeared suitably enraged. Sharp barbs and harsh observations mixed with the subject at hand. By the end, when the Carrows were as distracted as first years on the first warm, spring day, critical, useful information passed from him to the rest of the staff. Confused angry and bewildered resentment bloomed upon their faces, as if staring at his rather homely face would give them all their answers. Alas, Severus did all he could.

A final set of stairs swung into place just as he stepped upon the landing, distracted musing never once allowing him to notice. Portraits followed him, and even the ghosts seemed to be more respectful than not. By the time the dark man entered the headmaster's tower, gargoyle jumping aside in deference, his mind went back to its favorite topic: his mate, Hermione Granger. If she were smart, and Severus knew the answer to that, the girl would make sure that neither she nor her dunderheaded friends returned to the school the next week.

A familiar combination of relief, anxiety, and irritation swept through his chest. Perhaps, he conceded, he judged her too early and far too harshly. Fingers rubbed the bridge of his prominent nose, body slumping into the large chair behind the solid desk. A tired groan filled the air, hands rubbing his face.

"I must say, Severus," a cheerful, beguiling tenor spoke up, "You appear quite distraught."

He snorted.

"Really, dear boy, is everything alright?" Albus inquired, eyes sparkling within his gilded frame.

"You tell me, Albus," the wry response as the man behind the desk pulled himself up and together. "I just had a two hour meeting with a staff full of powerful wizards who wish to dismember and disembowel me, cursing so loudly, they might as well have said it aloud. This, on top of the fact that I must babysit two of the most deranged members of his ranks, while trying to keep the students safe. I dare say, everything is decidedly not alright."

"Besides all of that," the oil portrait dismissively waved a painted hand. "You look as if something important is weighing on your mind."

"We must have different views on the matter," growled the man.

"Do try not to be so trying, Severus," blue eyes twinkled and voice tutted.

"Trying? This whole situation is trying, old man," he exclaimed, glaring his predecessor.

"Now, now, it just looks like you have quite a bit on your mind," he hummed. "I just thought you'd like someone to talk to."

"And that person would be you, because?" A black brow rose in question. Silence. "Exactly. If I wish to share with you what troubles me, I will do is at the time of my choosing. Until then, kindly keep out of my business. Goddamned nosy Gryffindors," he muttered under his breath.

Phineas Nigellus Black chortled in agreement, watching the dark man behind the desk with barely restrained interest. Severus held an affection for the portrait, having a copy in his Head of Slytherin chambers. Having a fellow Slytherin in the room with him, even if only made up of linseed oil, pigment, and magic, comforted the potions master.

"Any news, Phineas?" he asked after taking a moment to collect himself.

"The brats are still in my ancestral home," the distinct, aristocratic drawl answered, bored and not afraid to let others know. "The Weasley boy continues to sulk and skulks about the house like the brainless twit he is," Severus snorted in answer, easily able to picture the boy lazing idle somewhere. "The Potter brat is marginally better, though only just. He spends his time with the girl in the library, helping her with some research. This, if you could imagine, makes the nuisance pout more so than before.

"The girl though," a thoughtful lilt continued, drawing Severus' attention. "I have found myself to be quite intrigued with her. She obviously knows the old ways," an approving flint passed in the man's eyes, "renewed the elf bonds to the family in a most adequate fashion. She is the one who works the most of the three, always researching or writing, and, if not, cleaning. Granted, now that the elf's bonds are reinforced, he is working quite industriously."

A moment passed as the two Slytherins nodded. They would talk later, somewhere Albus could not listen and begin to decode their conversation. Giving the late Headmaster a sarcastic glance, work consumed him whole for several hours. Elves delivered tea and food, barely touched and unacknowledged by the new Headmaster as a quill scratched upon pieces of parchment.

Pale moonlight streamed into the room before Severus set off towards the dungeons. Feet guided him towards his familiar, highly warded entrance. With ease born of many years practice, an archway shimmered into being, answering to the runes etched into the air and in his mind. Fire erupted at the flick of the wrist, tea zooming to the coffee table, and, with a great sigh, Severus settled in for the night. Within a quarter hour, the other Slytherin Headmaster slid into his portrait above the flickering hearth. Some minutes passed before the painting spoke.

"I know it no use to ask you to tell me how you truly fare, Severus," the regal man stated.

"And yet, I feel you to be on the edge of doing just that," the man retorted with a wry smirk.

"Not quite," he frowned. "Though there is something quite different about you since you've returned. And not," he continued loudly to interrupt the dark man below, "in the sense of attitude. More of an aura change, if you will. Something happened."

A long, low breath blew out of Severus' lungs.

"I take that as a yes," brows contracted. "You forget, quite often, that I practiced the Old Ways just as devoutly as you. I cannot say I blame you. The way that traditional and purebloods conduct themselves is no better than barbaric. They have forgotten what it truly means to be magical, that it is not just a convenient source of power. Uncouth, the whole lot."

"And your rants about blood traitors and mudbloods were to what end?" Severus raised a single brow.

"To see who could pick out the truth in what I said, and who I could confuse and misdirect," smirked Phineas. "Most think me nothing but another bigoted Black. Hah! I do not despise muggles and muggleborns simply because of their birth. The muggles who kept the Old Ways loyally are perhaps the most inspirational, as they do not have the gift of magic to remind them of the truth daily as we do. No, I abhor those who forgot their way. The muggles who instigated the witch hunts, for example, and the witches and wizards who have abandoned true magic to lead selfish, easy lives.

"And don't get me started on this Dark Lord fellow of your's," dark eyes bored into Severus. "Acts no better than a common brute, killing, pillaging, and such crude blackmail to get what he wants. No finesse at all, Severus. Dragging the good name of Slytherin in the dirt, that one is."

"You will find no quarrel with me on that point," the younger man chuckled, watching the rant with bemused, dark eyes.

"Earlier, I wanted to mention something," Black mused after a moment. "Without Albus' interference, of course."

"And I thank you for your discretion," Raven hair swung with a nod.

"The girl, Miss Granger," the portrait continued, Severus noting the civility with surprise. "Her knowledge of the ancient rites and rituals is quite impressive. I admit, happily so, to being wrong about her. She acknowledges and keeps with the Old Ways, you know. It's how they were able to care for the elf in the first place. I figured you did not want Albus privy to these observations as his opinions on the topic are well known."

Dark eyes rolled to the ceiling. Did he know about the old man's reluctance and wariness when it came to the Old Ways. Never experience a festival, nor the raw magic rushing through his core, Albus couldn't understand how his two trusted lieutenants ardently followed what he considered to be something bordering on dark magic. The idea of not truly being in control of his magic scared the previous headmaster witless, and led to many of his dubious choices and rather power mad political arrangements. Albus, for all he was, knew Miss Granger to be powerful, and seeing a third 'fall prey' to the lures of the Old Ways would cause the old fool to meddle, even in a frame.

"She is a true ley born, you know," Phineas continued. "Often snorts and coughs to cover up laughter when I go to insult the boys. Snappy with her ripostes, as well. I can feel her walk past my frame, even when I'm not there. There is only one other who held such power."

He scowled at the man. Of course, Severus knew he was magically powerful. His parents conceived him at the festival grounds the night after a celebration. By some unfortunate machinations of fate, Severus came to be. An audible click echoed through his mind as the information sunk into place. What were the chances that they both possessed such raw power? Lips thinned into a tight frown as thoughts chased around his mind. Maybe, that soft, slowly growing part of him whispered, just maybe, we truly are compatible. Perhaps I should give her a chance. The current majority smashed down those thoughts, vicious and quick. A soft cough recalled Severus to the moment, only to see the impassive Slytherin staring down at him.

"Something rather large happened over the summer," stated the former headmaster, keen eyes devouring the scene in front of him.

"And what makes you say that?" Severus snapped.

"While anger and denial are tried and true Slytherin tactics of avoidance and evasion, they will not work with me," the haughty portrait huffed. "Much as they fail rather spectacularly with you."

"Fine. Something happened," the answering growl.

"And it is what is weighing on you, more so than the rest of this," a painted hand waved back and forth.

"Yes, well, it so happens one can prepare themselves for this circumstance," Severus grumbled, slumping into the chair.

"But not for the event that passed this summer," Phineas retorted.

"As it so happens, no," Severus sniped, arms crossed in front of him. "If that is all?"

"Yes, yes, I'll let you get some rest," sighed the other man, exasperated and bemused. "And I will do my best to keep an eye and ear out on your favorite miscreants."

Severus muttered under his breath about nosy Slytherins all the way back to his bedroom. Only then, he allowed himself to panic. Somehow, Phineas had some sort of suspicion. Slytherins rarely spoke to one another in plain terms, not after their first few years for the most part. Never once did they mention the specific event, or any particular person. Yet, the dread of absolute certainty swirled in his stomach. The damned portrait deduced exactly what happened. He groaned into the soft pillow, wishing for the day to end.