AN: The last time I posted an update was March 2017. Today (Oct 2018) I'm posting a batch of chapters all at once. This batch starts with chapter 39, so if you got an update notice and ended up here - make sure you start back there.

I'm putting this warning at the top of each of the new chapters because of some requests the last time I posted a batch of chapters all at once and people nearly missed several chapters because they ended up on the most recent one and now the start of the new posts.

I'll confess that I haven't really proof-read this chapter, so it's probably got more errors than usual.

— —

Nothing has such power to broaden the mind as the ability to investigate systematically and truly all that comes under thy observation in life.

-Marcus Aurelius

— —

Chapter 44

"Severus, may I have a word?"

His chest tightened, but he remained stoic. He had been avoiding the Headmaster for the last few days, but had known this was inevitable. Severus Snape stepped away from Poppy Pomfrey and gave Dumbledore a curt nod before turning to follow him.

"Mind if I borrow your office Poppy?" Dumbledore asked her with a soft smile and sparkling blue eyes.

"Of course, Albus," she said and gestured him towards the room.

Soon they were inside it and Dumbledore closed the door. He turned to face Severus, giving him a soft yet scrutinizing look.

"How long have you been in contact with Lord Voldemort?"

Severus heaved a put upon sigh. "I've told you, Albus, I'm not—"

"He's standing out there right now. Are you going to tell me that you did not know Mars Veras is Voldemort?"

Severus froze.


Severus paused, his mind whirling. Should he deny? Should he just come clean? Harry had told him he was free to speak with Dumbledore, but that was Harry — that was not the Dark Lord's word, and while he was tolerating Harry's loose tongue, Severus was another matter entirely.

Slowly, Severus spoke. "I would argue that the man currently standing beside Harry's bed is not the Dark Lord… even if he may have been at one point."

Sure, Severus still thought of him as 'The Dark Lord', but he did not actually think of him at all as the same man that he'd been before the war. He put on a front, and was absolutely still intimidating, but if Severus were being honest, this new version of the man was dramatically changed.

Dumbledore let out a small chuckle and then sighed almost sadly. "So how long?" he asked.

"He first summoned me near the end of the summer before last," Severus admitted tiredly.

"Did he look like this during that time?"

"He never showed his face, actually. He was trying to keep his new identity secret."

"Were you the only one or were there others?"

"A few others. Lucius," Severus made a halfhearted gesture back towards the hospital wing where Lucius and Narcissa were still just barely visible from the window in the door.

"What did he want?"

"Nothing much at the time, actually. Lucius and a few others have seats on the Wizengamot. They had some political matters to discuss. Mostly that first summons was to make sure everyone understood that he had no arguments with Harry Potter and to make it clear that if anyone ever tried to hurt Harry, they'd have to answer to him. The only thing he ever asked of me was to keep an eye on Harry and make sure he was safe."

Dumbledore's eyebrows rose into his forehead a bit and he nodded thoughtfully. "Nothing else?"

"He's occasionally asked me about the Order — if there have been gatherings, what the atmosphere has been, how they're reacting to whatever madness Harry has gotten up to most recently," Severus rolled his eyes.

"And other meetings? When did you first become aware of his new identity?"

"I didn't learn of his identity until… probably some point around last Christmas, I think. There were very few meetings, truth be told, and after that first one, they were usually one-on-one. The bulk of my contact with him has happened over this last summer, and that's primarily related to Harry having spent so much time with him…"

"I must admit, I had thought it safe to assume you would never again submit yourself to serving Lord Voldemort. Not after Lily," Dumbledore said somewhat sadly.

Severus scowled slightly and looked away. He knew a manipulation when he saw it, but chose not to call it out. He sighed and looked back. "I do not see myself as serving of the Dark Lord. If anything… I suppose I'm serving Harry — though he has never asked for anything so formally structured. Harry does not order people to do things for him. He explains his motives, and he asks for things. Mostly, he's satisfied with doing things for himself, and will occasionally ask for favors.

"The Dark Lord… and I use the title out of habit and respect more than anything… he does still make requests with the obvious expectation of action, yet it's nothing like it was before the war. He is not at all the same man that he once was. I chose to help Harry — I chose to keep his secrets. I did this because he convinced me that it was what would help him. I chose to help him first and foremost; to serve him. That is, I think, what Lily would have wanted me to do. If I had felt, at any point, that the Dark Lord as he is now, posed a serious threat to Harry, or to any of the students of the school, I truly do believe that I would have come to you."

Dumbledore hummed and nodded slowly. "I believe that, too. Still — it is disappointing that you have lied to me for so long, now."

"I am a spy who answers to three different masters. You yourself put me into this position. I do as best as I can."

"I suppose you do have a point." Dumbledore moved around the small office and pulled out one of the chairs that sat opposite Madam Pomfrey's desk, and sat down. Severus hesitated, sighed, and then grabbed the other chair and pulled it opposite the Headmaster and joined him.

"So, Severus, what can you tell me about the man who was once Lord Voldemort?"

"I'm… not sure…" Severus hesitated. "Harry did grant me permission to speak to you about him, but that does not necessarily extend to what I know of the Dark Lord…"

"So you will still keep his secrets for him?"

Severus huffed. "I — it's difficult. There are secrecy protections bound within the Mark —"

"That never stopped you before," Dumbledore pointed out.

Severus gave him a rather sour look. "True. But it helped that I desired to tell you things."

"You do not desire to tell me about him now?"

"I have very little worth sharing," Severus said with a helpless gesture. "I don't doubt that you've already deduced a great many of the political maneuvering that he's at least partially responsible for. I know for a fact that you have because of your discussions with Elphias during the last few Order meetings. Beyond that, he hasn't shared a great deal of his life with me. There was… a dinner party. Narcissa arranged it as a celebration of sorts over the summer. It wasn't until that event that I even realized that Harry and the Dark Lord had become romantically involved. His calls for my aid have been few and far between, and never of a nature that endangered any lives." Except for a few muggles…

"A celebration?"

"He and Harry have been working on a project of some import over the course of the summer, and they dedicated a great deal of time working on that, and had reached a milestone of sorts. Narcissa wasn't even made aware of the nature of their work, or why whatever had happened was important — only that it was. Harry had mentioned how pleased he was with their success and she decided they should celebrate. I was invited to join them at both she and Harry's insistence.

"Do you know the nature of this work that was being celebrated?" Dumbledore asked.

"I do… but I am unable to discuss it with you."


"Because Harry said he didn't want me to."

"Is this something I should be concerned about?"

"No," Severus said with a confident shake of his head. "If I felt that this project could be dangerous or harmful, I would tell you. I do not feel so, however. If anything… it's likely to save a great many lives — on both sides. I think it has promise in reducing a great deal of the future violence that Harry has spoken of."

"Ah. Hm," Dumbledore hummed thoughtfully. "So… Mars Veras… am I to assume that Marcus Veras, who recently gained a seat on the Wizengamot is the same man? Thinking about it now… yes, yes… I should have seen it — the resemblance is there as well. It's more obvious in this younger form, as this is the age I knew him best during…" Dumbledore trailed off, mostly muttering to himself.

Severus sighed. "Is he aware that you have deduced his identity?"

"Yes, he and I spoke before Harry woke up."

"Harry calls him Marvolo…" Severus admitted after a quiet moment and Dumbledore got a look of understanding on his face. "In our few public interactions, he's had Lucius and I use the name Marcus."

"I see."

"What are you going to do now?"

"I haven't decided yet. I suppose I'm still observing. So many things have changed this week… it's given me much to think about. I suppose for now, it may be more important if we focus instead on this attack. Harry says that nothing of this nature has ever happened in any of his previous iterations… he still hasn't thoroughly explained how that works to me — perhaps you would now be willing to clear that up?"

"I suppose I could… Harry said I was free to discuss nearly any details about him with you, with a few select exceptions — the recent project being one."

"I would like it if we could perhaps meet up in my office later today to discuss it, then."

Severus gave a resigned nod.

— —

The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.

-Marcus Aurelius

— —

"You have no idea?"

"None," Harry said with a helpless shrug. "This seriously never happened in any of my pervious lives."

Marvolo scowled. "I should go down to the village and look for any evidence, but the place is crawling with Aurors, and by the time they go, anything useful will have been destroyed by their incompetence."

"Well, you've got a couple of guys in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. You can at least get a copy of the report from them," Harry offered quietly.

Marvolo sighed and his shoulders sank. "I hate this."

Harry reached up and rubbed his shoulder. "I know… I'm sorry."

"You've apologized at least a dozen times now… it's not like any of this is explicitly your fault. I just wish I knew what was going on. I swear, when I find out who did this, I'm going to personally burn their skin from the inside-out. I'll show them what a Cruor curse can really look like," Marvolo ground out through clenched teeth.

Harry patted his shoulder fondly.

"It's so weird seeing you here," Harry said after a quiet moment.

Marvolo glanced around the Hospital wing and nodded. "It's weird being here. Walking through the halls was almost surreal, except I was so worried about you, I barely had the chance to think about it."

"Then again, I suppose you were technically here for almost the entire school year back in '91."

"I was on the back of Quirrell's head — that hardly counts. I was barely conscious most of the time, and I certainly didn't have the opportunity to look around," Marvolo said.

Harry shrugged. "Maybe I can get out of here soon and manage to convince Dumbledore to let me give you a tour. I still can't believe the risk you're taking by being here. I mean, what if he figures it out?"

Marvolo sighed. "He already did."

"Wait — what?"

"He figured it out," Marvolo said tiredly. "He said he recognized me."

"He recog—I told you! I told you that you looked too much like your old self!"

Marvolo glared at Harry, but the glare didn't have much weight to it. Mostly he just looked tired.

"Oh shut up," Marvolo said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "It was a gamble. I understood the risks. Besides, you and your loose lips have already let so damn much slip this week, what the hell is the harm at this point. He seems inclined to keep it quiet. I suppose we'll just have to see what happens from here."

Harry let out a weak laugh and shook his head. "This whole week has been insane."

"You brought it on yourself. Can't keep your damn mouth shut," Marvolo muttered, clearly annoyed. "There's no telling what consequences will come of all of this."

"I stand by my choice though," Harry shrugged, shifting a bit in the hospital bed so he could sit up straighter. "Making Dumbledore our enemy is a mistake, especially if it doesn't have to be that way. I'm not suggesting making him our ally—" Harry added quickly at Marvolo's incredibly sour expression. "—but dividing our community is the opposite of what we need to do. What I was doing before was just driving a bigger wedge between our two sides, and I know that was a mistake. I just… I thought I had to. I thought that allying myself with you meant making an enemy of him and his ilk, but that's not really the case. It's better if we can make it work this way."

Marvolo sighed. "I hope you're right… but what about this new complication?" Marvolo gestured towards Harry's side, still blotched and mottled with streaks of purple, black, and green.

"I don't know… I'm really at a loss here. I'll definitely have to do some digging around. I can't have some new mystery faction out there trying to kill me."

"You don't suppose Dumbledore or any of his lot could be behind this?"

"Dumbledore? No. It's not his style," Harry shook his head.

Marvolo gave a conceding nod. "True, it's not."

"Plus, we seem to be doing okay right now at least. As for an Order member? Well… maybe? They'd have to be pretty zealous and really buying into Dumbledore's old worries about me… I'll definitely look into each of them, but none of them really stick out to me as the likely culprit."

"I'll send out feelers for any whispers," Marvolo said thoughtfully. "That tentacula could be a place to start — if it was acquired recently, trade in dangerous plants of that size are tracked."

Harry nodded. He shifted again, finding it impossible to find a position that didn't aggravate the ache. He grimaced.

Marvolo looked down at the mark and his brow creased with worry. "Can't you speed up the healing?"

"Hm? Well… yeah, I probably could. I'd have to let down my masks to do it. I figured I'd wait until later tonight when Madam Pomfrey has gone to bed."

"So your plan is to just suffer, needlessly, until then?" Marvolo asked pointedly.

Harry shrugged.

Marvolo huffed. "Look — aside from the healer, everyone in this hall already knows your secrets. Even Granger. Just heal yourself already, damn it. I can't stand seeing that mark on you."

"Hermione and Dumbledore both know a bit more about my truths now, but neither of them have experienced my full magic with my masks down. Dumbledore has experienced a bit, but…" Harry hesitated, looking wary.

"You're the one whose had such a flippant disregard for your secrets lately!" Marvolo said exasperatedly.

"Okay, fine, fine," Harry said. "We should at least warn them before I start."

Marvolo stood up, reached forward and pulled the curtain back. The movement drew the attention of the others who were sitting or standing in various positions around the wing. Madam Pomfrey was speaking to Lucius while Narcissa stood next to him with Draco beside her. Dumbledore and Severus were just coming out of Pomfrey's office and a quick glance to his right showed that Hermione was still in her bed, now looking up from a book.

"Harry is going to heal himself. In order to do this, he has to release his magical masking. You've been warned," Marvolo said blandly before turning back and looking at Harry expectantly.

Harry rolled his eyes.

"It's a good thing you never became a healer. You'd have terrible bedside manner," Harry muttered before letting out a slow deep breath. Slowly, he let the masking peel back, falling away bit by bit and gradually revealing the full force of his natural stores of inner magic.

Hermione's book fell limply in her lap and her jaw fell open. Marvolo closed his eyes and basked in the buzz that filled the air, while Madam Pomfrey staggered and had to grab hold of the nearby wall to steady herself.

Harry opened his eyes and looked down at his curse wound. He placed his hand over his bruised ribs and side and focused his power. The curtain, now shoved into a mass beside his bed, wavered as if a wind were blowing through the wing, and small sparks of static danced along the metal railing at the foot and head of the bed.

The purple began to fade and the nasty tendrils that seemed to sneak their way out from the central impact began to recede — pulling back to their origin and then disappearing completely.

The discoloration slowly faded until there was nothing but clear skin and Harry seemed satisfied.

"Alright," Harry said with a nod, and a moment later, the heavy curtain of magic that blanketed the room began to dissipate as Harry restored the masks, one by one, until he appeared to all the world to be perfectly magically normal. "Done."

Madam Pomfrey was gripping at her chest and slipped a bit. Severus had to reach out to help steady her.

"Harry… I had no idea…" Hermione whispered.

Harry shrugged. "People treat me differently when they know. I prefer it if they don't."

Hermione nodded slowly.

Harry sat forward a bit and twisted from one side to another, reaching out his arms and stretching them as well. He let out a relieved groan before relaxing back. "Muuuch better. Still a bit sore, but that should pass quickly enough."

Madam Pomfrey hesitated for only a moment but finally moved forward towards Harry's bed and gave him a questioning look. Harry nodded and she pulled out her wand to do a few diagnostic spells.

"Goodness gracious…" she murmured. "How the devil did you do that?"

"I'm not sure if you noticed, but I'm actually really quite powerful," Harry whispered in a conspiratorial sort of tone. She gave him a thoroughly unamused glare.

Harry grinned back unapologetically.

"So what do you say, Madam Pomfrey? Can I be discharged?" Harry asked.

She let out a huff and looked rather flustered. "This is absolutely ridiculous… less than an hour ago I was amazed that you weren't dead! Here you are, asking to leave?"

"I'm fine. Your own scans say so, right?"

"They say so now, yes… but this is unprecedented. You could relapse. I simply don't know enough about the nature of this curse or how it was exactly that you have recovered from it," she protested.

"I'm fine," Harry pressed, reassuringly. "And I'm going to stay that way. The Adolebiqutus Cruor is the most basic form of the Cruor curse genus and the easiest to undo the damage from if you know what you're doing. And I do. I'm good."

"I —" she made to argue, looking flustered. Severus came up from behind her and placed a hand on her shoulder, drawing her gaze.

"I can keep an eye on Mr. Potter. If I am at all concerned, I will insist he come back," Severus said.

Madam Pomfrey gave them all a rather sour face for a moment before huffing and throwing her hands up. "Oh fine. No one listen to me. I'm only the mediwitch." She rolled her eyes dramatically, turned, and headed towards her office.

Severus watched her go for a moment before turning his focus back on Harry and Marvolo. He leaned down and spoke quickly to Marvolo. "Dumbledore has confronted me on your identity. He knows."

Marvolo grimaced, rolled his eyes somewhat and nodded. "Yes, I'm aware. I knew it was a risk in coming here… we'll just have to adapt our plans when it becomes more clear how he's going to respond to this revelation."

"He seems to be in the same sort of holding pattern. He says he intends to observe things and decide how to proceed when he had more information," Severus said quietly.

"How are you two, anyway?" Harry asked gently. When Severus only gave him a somewhat confused look, Harry pressed on. "I mean… he knows now that you've had to lie to him — I know I was asking a lot of you, putting you into this position…"

"I am more than capable of handling these matters," Severus said dismissively. "I'm more concerned with how you are."

Harry huffed and gestured to his now unblemished chest. "I'm fine."

"You nearly weren't fine. I would point out that I was the one who initially addressed your curse damage, so I know better than anyone just how not fine you were."

"And for that, I thank you," Harry said with a nod.

Severus rolled his eyes dramatically, but then blinked down in mild surprise when Harry reached out and grabbed hold of his hand, giving him a serious look. "Really, Sev. I mean it. Thank you."

Severus looked uncomfortable but nodded. "You can thank me by not being so reckless next time some sort of incident happens."

"I'll definitely be more on my guard," Harry said.

"You better be," Marvolo muttered. He turned to Severus. "You said that Draco was the one that dragged Harry out of the street after he was wounded?"

"That's right," Severus said.

Marvolo made a small hum and nodded. He told Harry he'd be right back and walked across the short distance to where the Malfoys were gathered. Dumbledore was also near them but Marvolo opted to ignore him for now.

"Draco," Marvolo began and Draco blinked at him in confusion for a moment before he apparently realized who Marvolo was because his eyes went wide as galleons and his face went white as a sheet. Lucius squeezed his shoulder and Draco quickly got control of his features, but his complexion was still pale.

"Y-yes, m— uh, yes?" Draco stuttered ineloquently. Lucius appeared to grimace in minor embarrassment but didn't say anything.

"Severus tells me you helped move Harry to cover after he was attacked."

"Er, yes, that's right."

Marvolo reached out, grabbed Draco's hand in both of his and held it. "Thank you."

Draco looked as if he could have fainted. His Adam's apple bobbed on his long pale neck as he swallowed, but he was apparently lost for words and instead just nodded mutely.

Marvolo turned to Lucius then. "Thank you for responding so quickly and allowing me to come here with you."

"Of course," Lucius said with a small bow of his head. He seemed to stop himself from going any further, though it was obvious his instincts were to show this 'young man' more deference and respect than would seem reasonable to most people.

Marvolo then reluctantly turned to face Dumbledore. He grimaced. "I feel as if you and I probably need to speak further."

"Perhaps we should. I would be willing to schedule something later, if you would prefer to spend the remainder of the evening with Harry."

Marvolo sighed lightly. "I would prefer that, yes."

"Might I suggest that we give it a few days and allow us each to see what information we can dig up from our various resources in regards to the incident down in Hogsmeade today. That way, when we meet again, we can share what we have learned and use our shared goal of discovering what is behind this, to come together."

Marvolo gave the older wizard a wary sort of look but finally seemed to concede. "That idea is acceptable. Should I come to the school, or would you prefer to keep me away and instead schedule our meeting somewhere else?"

"Oh, I think that my office will do," Dumbledore said, his eyes twinkling. Marvolo's lip curled at the sight of it.

"Hey there, everyone," Harry said, coming up behind Marvolo as he pulled a black robe on over his bare torso.

"Should you be out of bed?" Narcissa asked worriedly.

Harry smiled at her warmly. "I'm fine, Cissy dear. Thanks for your concern, though."

"Alright, Harry, but I want you to take it easy," She said, giving him a pointed look.

Harry grinned and nodded. "I will. I'm sure everyone else will be kicking my butt to do the same."

"We will," Severus said, coming up behind him.

"Soooo… how are things?" Harry asked Marvolo and Dumbledore specifically.

Marvolo snorted and shook his head exasperatedly.

"I think things are quite fine," Dumbledore said with a smile.

"Debatable," Marvolo muttered.

"Yeaaahh… so… could I give Mars a tour?" Harry asked with a wide innocent grin.

"Are you seriously asking that?" Marvolo asked incredulously.

"I suppose," Dumbledore said thoughtfully.

Marvolo gaped at him. "Seriously?"

"Well, unless he thinks we'd go to all the trouble to arrange an attack on the village, and hit me with a potentially deadly curse, just to justify sneaking you into the castle, there isn't necessarily much reason for him to say no," Harry said.

"Don't be an idiot," Marvolo said, smacking Harry in the shoulder.

"Perhaps I could join you? It would give the three of us a brief opportunity to speak further," Dumbledore offered.

Harry and Marvolo shared a brief look.

Five minutes later the three of them were walking down the hall towards the Grand Staircase. The Malfoys were leaving on their own, and Madam Pomfrey had reluctantly permitted Harry to leave the Hospital Wing so he'd be returning to the Slytherin dorms after Marvolo left. It was less of a 'tour' and more of a 'walking him out', but it wasn't as if Marvolo actually needed a tour of the place.

"I don't know, Harry… I'm less convinced than ever that you should even bother to continue this charade," Marvolo was saying as they slowly walked down a hall.

"You mean leave Hogwarts early? Why would I do that?"

"Harry — someone is apparently trying to kill you," Marvolo said pointedly.

"People have been trying to kill me in various forms for nearly six hundred years. For a reasonable percentage of that time, it was variations of you."

"Yes, which means you had centuries of experience dealing with the exact same predictable people threatening your life. You have no idea who this is or why they're doing it."

"There have been plenty of times where I had no idea who was coming after me, or why," Harry said rolling his eyes. "I'm more than capable of looking after myself."

"Says the man who was nearly just killed," Marvolo grumbled.

"I'm fine! I knew I'd be fine. If I'd honestly thought that curse would have killed me, I wouldn't have taken the hit."

"You would have let Granger die?" Marvolo asked pointedly.

"Well — no… I'd have come up with something else."

"You had a split second to make a choice and the choice you made was to take the curse. Honestly, your instincts seem rather shit as far as I'm concerned."

Harry sighed. "I think the most important thing to take away from this is that I handled it as well as I could given absolutely no warning and no reason to be on my guard. Now, that's different. I know that someone is out to get me and I'll be on alert."

"I still hate this. I'd feel better if you just came home," Marvolo muttered.

"It's not as if you'd be spending every waking moment by my side, even if I went back home," Harry argued.

"Why not?"

"I'm pretty sure that's a guaranteed way for us to drive each other batty."

"I certainly didn't mind our time together on the island."

Harry glanced at Dumbledore who was walking a couple feet behind them before looking back to Marvolo with a questioning look.

"Oh? A secret you havn't gone and told the whole bloody world about already?" Marvolo said sarcastically.

"Well… I figured we'd keep that one a little quiet until it was further along," Harry protested.

"Honestly Harry, I'm so exhausted right now, I don't give a damn about any of it anymore," Marvolo said with a heavy sigh. "You and your insane and irrational need to start telling every damn person you ever gave a shit about…" he ground out and then heaved another tired sigh. "If I weren't in your head, and aware how big of a difference it's made in your mood, I'd absolutely be kicking up much more of a fight, but today… today I just want to go to bed."

"I'm sorry," Harry said softly, reaching out and taking Marvolo's hand. "I'm sorry I scared you."

"Oh shut up," Marvolo said tiredly.

Harry came to a stop and moved to stand in front of Marvolo, stopping him and forcing him to look up and meet his eyes. "If you want me to come home, I will."

Marvolo sighed, paused for a moment and then shook his head. "No… it's alright. I know you enjoyed that defense club… thing, and the opportunity you have now to try and make some ties with the people you once cared about… and your other reasons for coming back for this year haven't changed. They're all still valid… well, as valid as they ever were."

"I could do what I want to do whether I graduate from Hogwarts or not."

"Respect will play an important role in things to come, and a drop-out will not be as well respected," Marvolo admitted. "Given your apparent youth, we'll already have a difficult time getting people on board with some of your efforts once you gain control of your wizengamot seats. We don't need any more roadblocks in the way of our work… I just wish…" Marvolo turned and his eyes went to Dumbledore who had come to a stop a few feet behind them, apparently intent on giving them a small bit of space. "Have you considered my request?"

"Request?" Harry asked, looking between Marvolo and Dumbledore.

"I asked him to give you his wand."

"You what?" Harry said with a bark of laughter. Then he paused. "Seriously?"

Marvolo turned and looked back at Harry. "If you had the wand, you'd have all three Hallows. You'd be immortal."

"So long as I carried them all on my at all times…"

"The cloak is the only inconvenience there, and it's not that difficult to store it on your person if needed."

"I — Marvolo, this is mental. I don't know if being gifted the wand would even be enough to earn it's loyalty. The Elder wand has to be won."

"Then win it," Marvolo said.

Harry gave him a rather helpless look before looking over to Dumbledore.

"I… I will give your request some thought," Dumbledore said earning a surprised look from Harry. Marvolo just gave him a penetrating look. Not hateful, but not pleading either.

After a long and somewhat awkward moment Harry heaved a sigh and resumed walking. "I'm going to stay at Hogwarts for a bit longer. I nothing else, I want to try and figure out who was behind this attack and why, and I'd probably have a better chance of figuring that out if I stay here."

Marvolo didn't reply, but he did nod as he kept pace, walking beside Harry.

"You can check with your resources and probably take a look around Hogsmeade," Harry said to Marvolo.

"Dumbledore and I already agreed to meet again in a few days to exchange information."

Harry looked from Marvolo, back to Dumbledore, and back again with obvious surprise in his eyes. "Really?"

Marvolo gave him an unamused glare. "Is that so hard to believe?"

"Uh… yes?"

"If we share a common goal of discovering who is behind this attack, I see no reason not to exchange information."

"I — wow. That's very… mature of you," Harry said, earning him another narrow-eyed glare from Marvolo. "Am I invited to this exchange of information?"

"Of course," Marvolo said dismissively.

The group began to descend the various staircases, pausing a few times at various landings as staircases swiveled around and came to meet them. Finally they reached the Entrance Hall.

Marvolo turned to Harry and pulled him in close, holding him tighter than one might expect, for several moments.

§I expect to see you home tonight,§ he hissed into Harry's ear.

§I'll be there,§ Harry quietly said back.

They shared a brief kiss before Harry pulled back and let out a small breathy sigh. Marvolo reached up and ran his fingers through Harry's messy black mop. "Be safe."

"Love you," Harry said back, grinning.

Marvolo smiled softly, leaned forward and kissed him once more and stayed close. "Love you," he said softly, his breath spreading across Harry's lips.

And with that Marvolo pulled back, gave Dumbledore a curt nod, and then turned and left. Harry watched as he pushed open the double doors, walked through, and soon vanished from view as they closed behind him.

Harry sighed.

"How miraculous," Dumbledore remarked several moments later, drawing Harry's curious gaze. "I believe he really meant that."

Harry chuckled tiredly. "He does. I can feel his emotions. It's real."

"He mentioned a link earlier. I believe he said something about not feeling you anymore after you were hurt and that it led him to believe you had died."

Harry grimaced, feeling another wave of guilt. "Yeah…"

"So you can sense his presence all of the time?" Dumbledore asked curiously.

"I can now. We keep the link open almost constantly, though it didn't used to be that way. And even when it's not fully open I can still feel him there at the back of my mind. It's like when you can tell someone is standing behind you, even if you can't see them or hear them. You just sort of have this sense that they're there… sort of like that. Except with the link open, I do sort of hear him… not literally, and not words; it's not like I'm hearing his thoughts or anything like that… I guess I could describe it like background music, or a constant stream of white noise, that changes volume and pitch."

"Fascinating. And you have conscious control over how open this link is?"

Harry nodded. "Yeah. I worked it out over the years quite a few lives ago, and showed him how to do it. I'd never explored it to this extent in any previous lives, though. This is the first time I've ever allied with him, so I never really had the reason or opportunity to before."

"You've clearly had a dramatic effect upon him. I would never have guessed that was Tom Riddle."

"He's not," Harry said, shaking his head. "And if you don't want to piss him off, you'll make sure not to call him that, either."

"No matter who he is today, he was Tom Riddle," Dumbledore said with a gently pointed tone.

"True," Harry conceded. "Do you know what's necessary to reintegrate a soul the way he did it?"

"I believe I understand the general idea."

"The ritual he used — that he chose to use, because if he'd just asked me, I could have provided him with an easier way to do it — the ritual puts you into a trance and you experience visions from the point of view of all of the loved ones of the person you murdered in order to break off the piece of soul you isolated. Every person whose life was dramatically affected by their loss; their grief, depression, pain… you feel it. You have to keep feeling it until magic decides you've sufficiently understood the gravity of the value of a single life lost can have on the world. The impact that person's loss had upon other people — you have to understand it, fully, and feel honest remorse for what you did. Only then can the damage done to the soul be mended and the two pieces restored as one. He did that four times.

"I was amazed he was even capable of doing it when I first found out. I mean, truth be told, part of me had always kind of assumed he was just a physiological sociopath and his neural pathways were just incompatible with basic empathy. But he wasn't born that way. He was a cold child, and he walled himself off as a defense mechanism, but he wasn't a born monster.

"He had decided that he was going to restore his soul and fix the damage done, and once he decides to do something, he doesn't give up until he succeeds — even if that something is to feel bad about murder, apparently…" Harry sighed and shrugged. "But you can't go through something like that and come out unchanged. Especially someone who had gone to such great lengths to isolate and detach himself from his emotions. He had to let all of that in, and then he found he couldn't really kick it back out… and didn't even really want to.

"Don't get me wrong — he's not exactly a warm and fuzzy guy with other people. He's still got his walls and he still keeps most people at arms distance, but he's slowly letting more people in, and he's actually starting to let Severus and Lucius see him as a human being and not just this super-powerful worshipful figure. I don't think either of them entirely appreciate it, but he honestly sees them both as friends — like actual friends, just just "friends"," Harry said making air-quotes with his fingers and a chuckle.

"This is all… quite amazing," Dumbledore remarked. "I wonder… is there any chance you might be willing to tell me a little something about this project the two of you are working on? It seems to be the largest remaining question mark, and if I'm go make an informed opinion on how to proceed, I would prefer to have as complete a picture as possible."

Harry sighed and looked around somewhat distractedly. It was late now — after curfew, in fact, and the Entrance Hall was vast and eerie in the sparse candle light.

"It's an island."

"An island?"

"We're making it. He and I — we made a volcano out in the ocean," Harry grinned. "Entirely ours. New land. We're going to grow it until it's large enough for the whole magical population of Great Britain. We're thinking of calling it New Avalon."

Dumbledore blinked.

"It'll be highly fortified. We won't spare anything in defense, and I'll come straight out and say that any attacks will be met with deadly force — but I still think it'll result in a lot less violence this way. We can repel any air attacks and we're going to sculpt the land to maintain these really high and steep cliffs with only one sea level bay, so it'll be easier to defend any marine attacks. We're aiming to make a full self sustaining island. Agriculture, mining, our own magical manufacturing, all of it. We've got twenty years to get it set, so hopefully we'll manage it. Obviously it won't be self-sufficient right away — it'll take some time — but by the time it matters, it should be all set to withstand any attempted sieges."

"And who will be permitted to move to this island?" Dumbledore asked.

"Anyone with magic. We're already planning an area for the goblins, a reserve for giants and dragons. The centaurs will have an area set aside for them. I'm going to invite the Veela, even though the Veela nation is in France — they just didn't do so well in other versions, of the future, so I want to give them a refuge if they'll take it. There are these stacks around the island chain that I was thinking we'd offer up to the Dementors. It'd have the added bonus as acting as a deterrent to any approaching vessels, and they create a ton of mist."

"You've clearly thought through quite a lot. I do wonder though — what of the muggleborn? Or any witch or wizard married to a muggle?"

"I know you won't like it, but I'm not bending on these points," Harry started warningly. "From a certain point on, magical and muggle segregation is going to be instituted. Any future marriages between a muggle and a witch or wizard will be banned. But we won't be nullifying past marriages. Anyone who is already married to a muggle is going to be faced with some hard choices. One — their muggle spouse can come to the island only if they agree to cut all ties with the muggle world. They'll live as a squib among us, but that's the best we can offer them. Two — if their muggle spouse is unwilling to leave behind the muggle world, the witch or wizard will either have to leave them behind, or stay behind with them. We're not going to force anyone to move to the island. They don't have to come.

"As for muggleborn, that's going to be a complex issue. Up until the break in the Statue of Secrecy happens in a couple decades, we're going to have a number of early introduction programs that will focus on trying to integrate muggleborn into our society as much as possible, as early as possible. Any witches or wizards found in the muggle foster system, or in a family situation that is dramatically inappropriate will be moved into a magical foster system instead. No magical children will be left in the care of muggles who are not related to them, or don't want them.

"After the conflict breaks out, we are going to have some very strict programs in place for keeping an eye out for magical children being abused by muggles. We're not aiming to start stealing children from their parents, but if the child's welfare is in jeopardy, we won't hesitate to remove them."

Dumbledore let out a low hum and slowly nodded his head. There was no twinkle in his eye, and while he did not look pleased, he also did not look as if he were inclined to pose some sort of argument.

They didn't talk for much longer as Harry really was feeling pretty tired by that point. The two finally parted ways with Dumbledore heading up the stairs and Harry heading down to the dungeons. Harry made his way straight through the Slytherin common room, into his dorm, bid goodnight to Draco and through the Vanishing Cabinet to he and Marvolo's home.

The day had been far too eventful for his liking, and he was more than ready to go to bed, snuggled in Marvolo's warm embrace.

— — — — —

AN: And that's all I've got for this batch.

I want to tell you that it definitely won't be as long a wait this time until I post again, but I can't make that promise. I never know if or when I'll have time or inspiration, or if some crazy life event is going to swoop in and disrupt everything again.

I will say that for the first time I actually know how I want to end this story. (Yes, seriously - I never had an end planned). It was always sort of a 'serialized series' rather than a traditional structured novel. Don't get the wrong impression though - I wouldn't say it's super near an end point, but I have some idea of how I'd end it now, where as before I absolutely didn't.

So maybe that'll help me keep plucking away at it. Who knows.