Chapter Eighteen (Or: Considering the Long Run)

"How is it you managed to make the team?"

James ignored Malfoy with practiced ease, nibbling on his toast out of boredom rather than hunger. It was Wednesday morning, and news of his position on the Slytherin quidditch team had gotten out the day before. Of course, with it came the news that he was muggle-raised, though James hadn't a hope of deciphering what the reactions to that were over the more immediate response to his joining the team.

Because despite Flint's assurances, most people were not impressed, were not amused, and seemed to take it as a personal insult – none of which made the slightest bit of sense to him, but he had long since given up trying to understand the daft hive mentality that plagued all but a handful of Hogwarts students.

At least Fred and George seemed to take it just like they took everything else – like it was an epic joke.

"You realize you are officially the enemy – quidditch is serious business! You are henceforth our rival on the pitch!" All the while they were cackling madly over the itching powder they were slipping into the teacher's laundry.

And they wondered why James hadn't taken their declarations of enmity seriously at all.

More serious was the fact that his entire house was gunning for him doubly because he had supposedly cheated them out of their chance at a spot on the team. Especially the older students that had tried out before. And Malfoy, but Spawn was all talk as far as James was concerned.

If he heard the blonde ditz start another sentence with the words 'My father. . .'

"My father won't stand for this! Why should you get to be on the team when the rest of the first years are banned from playing!?"

"Because he actually has talent on a broom." Flint growled, sweeping along the table and sending Crabbe and Goyle scampering to make room for him with a pointed look. "Lay off, Malfoy. You're welcome to try out for the other reserve position, but don't hold your breath."

James stared at Flint. "What the bloody hell is this about? You know ass-kissing won't get you anything but a shit-smeared face."

Flint sneered. "Don't be ridiculous, Potter. You're a member of the team now."

"And that's supposed to actually mean something?"

"Of course. We stick together."

"Right. Just like all of Slytherin sticks together and has each other's back because we know the rest of the school is out to get us. Just like we all get together, hold hands around the bonfire and sing songs about peace and goodwill to all mankind." Their conversation was put on hold for a moment while the owls descended into the hall. James was completely unprepared for the owl that came to a fluttering halt in front of him with a letter addressed to him. The only letter he'd gotten since he'd come to Hogwarts was from Gringotts. It was written with a muggle pen, so he had a fairly good idea who it was from. He pocketed the letter to read later and the owl swooped off again.

"The rules have changed now." Flint finally muttered. "It's not the same as it was before."

"Well silly me! I hadn't realized that all I had to do to get you to lay off and stop attacking me was to get attacked by you on a broom and convince the lot of you that I actually have something to offer that outweighs your ridiculous need to hurt me. Never mind that I'm a bloody genius and ridiculously clever – that's nowhere near as impressive as getting angry and breaking your nose during practice."

"I'll admit that you are a bit clever, and you're loads ahead of your year mates as far as skills – on the pitch and with a wand. But you aren't nearly so great as you think you are, Potter. Keep letting your head grow like that and I'll have to deflate it for you."

"Right." James scowled. "Like that worked so well for you before, eh Flint? Besides – you need me, alive and whole. And not just on the quidditch pitch. Once you pull your head out of your arse you'll realize it would be much better to have me as an ally than an enemy. I'm wicked resourceful – and what was that comment you made about how if I was any more Slytherin I'd talk to snakes?"

James grinned widely at the older boy. Flint frowned in confusion, before his eyebrows shot skyward.

"You're lying!"

"Maybe – maybe not." James stood up. "But seeing as how you can't possibly know that for sure. . ."

"Parseltongue is a gift restricted to those in the Slytherin bloodline." Flint growled. "Don't you dare try to tell me you think you are Slytherin's descendant. The Potters have no connection to Slytherin, and your mother was a mudblood."

"Whatever you say, Flint." James shrugged. "Because you're obviously always right, can't possibly be wrong, can't possibly underestimate me and I am absolutely not full of surprises."

Flint gaped as James left, and he was almost to the door of the great hall before Flint found his voice again.

"You're lying! I know you are!"

James just grinned at the older boy before slipping through the double doors and heading for the stairs. He still had a half-hour before he had to get to Transfiguration, and he wanted to read the letter from Gren in privacy.

"Mr. Potter. I would like a word with you, if you don't mind."

James jumped at the jovial voice directly behind him, and he swung around, coming face to face with the headmaster.

"Professor Dumbledore! I – uh – didn't see you there."

"That's alright, my dear boy. I was just heading down to the great hall to look for you – would you mind following me to my office so we could speak in private?"

James was instantly wary, but did his best to hide his unease as he nodded and followed the headmaster towards the gargoyle guardian on the second floor. Dumbledore was humming quietly to himself, occasionally shooting James a smile that was meant to be reassuring.

It wasn't.

When they were finally in the office, Dumbledore taking his seat behind his desk and leaving James standing uncertainly in front of him, the headmaster offered him a sherbert lemon, of all things.

"Er. . . No thank you." James responded as politely as he could, all the while resisting the urge to demand what the hell the bloody old bastard wanted with him.

"I wanted to speak to you about how you're getting along in the wizarding world." Dumbledore started. "Now, I know your aunt was familiar with some of the basics – obviously enough so to give you a good start. You obviously had no problems acquiring school supplies and finding your way onto the Hogwarts Express. But it has come to my attention that there is probably still some information you need. Am I right, my dear boy?"

James blinked owlishly at him, ducking his head in false embarrassment as a way to keep from making eye contact. "Yes, actually. There are still some things I'm confused about, sir. I've been getting help from Hermione – we've been going over some stuff together. You know how it is, trying to learn about everything there is to know. But we're still a long ways off, I think."

"Ah, yes. Young Miss Granger – she is quite a brilliant mind, is she not? Quite like yourself. I understand you are top of your class in practical assignments in both Charms and Transfiguration. Though, your written work seems to be somewhat lacking."

James nodded, blushing and still not meeting the headmaster's eyes. "Yes – I'm getting help for that too. Hermione has been helping me, and Professor McGonagall is tutoring me. But I don't think any amount of tutoring is going to help me learn how to properly use a quill. I miss muggle pens."

"Yes." Dumbledore nodded in agreement. "There are quite a few muggle tools the magical world still hasn't come around to accepting that would make life so much easier. I'm glad you and Miss Granger are becoming friends. I have to admit I was worried about the both of you spending so much time alone."

James shrugged, waiting for the man to continue.

"Now, you are obviously aware that Professor Snape asked me to make an allowance for you to join the Slytherin quidditch team and to make an allowance for you to have your own broom here at Hogwarts – I have agreed to both."

"Really!?" James' excitement was only a little bit faked. "Thank you, sir!"

"It is my pleasure." Dumbledore beamed. "From what I hear, you take after your father with your quidditch skills. It will be a treat to watch you play."

"I probably won't be playing any games this year, sir." James said solemnly. "After all, I'm only a reserve – but when the seventh years graduate Marcus says I'll be a starting player!"

"Indeed – don't let your hopes of playing this year get dashed too soon. Life is tricky – and quidditch is even trickier. You never know when one of the starting players won't be able to play."

Though it was meant to sound encouraging, James couldn't shake the feeling that there was a subtle threat hidden in there somewhere. Not that he had any idea exactly who the threat was against – himself or his teammates. Regardless, his wariness of the headmaster jumped up another notch.

"But we are getting off topic! My point, my dear boy! My point is that you are going to need to buy yourself a broom! And while I was thinking on that, I realized that you probably didn't know that your parents left money in a vault at Gringotts!"

James did actually know that now, but only after he had spent three hours painfully drafting a letter to the goblins, had signed the letter in his own blood and spent another six hours searching for a decent translation spell because the goblins thought it was funny to send the reply in Gobbledegook. In fact, he now knew that he had three vaults – one of which was his trust fund, the other two held the majority of the Potter fortune and family heirlooms that he'd be able to access when he turned seventeen. However, he didn't let on any of this.

"A vault, sir?"

"Yes. You have a significant amount of galleons in a vault at Gringotts – enough to get you through school and then some! I have the key to your vault right here, actually. I've been keeping it safe for you."

"Oh." James gingerly accepted the small brass key Dumbledore held out for him. "Thank you, sir. If you don't mind my asking. . . why wasn't I given this sooner? I really could have used the money while I was buying my school supplies – my uncle had to pay for it all out of pocket. Not that I'm ungrateful! It just would have made everything a little easier on my family, you know."

Dumbledore frowned then, and James pretended to be embarrassed again to avoid looking the headmaster in the eye. "Never mind sir! That was rude of me to ask!"

"Not at all. The fact is, I didn't trust that your relatives wouldn't use your gold for their own selfish purposes. Technically, as your guardians they have a right to it. But so long as they don't know about it. . ."

"Right." James nodded. "That makes sense. And they definitely would – er. . . that is. . . I mean. . ."

"You don't have to explain yourself, Mr. Potter. I have met Petunia Dursley before."

James couldn't suppress the wince at the name, but Dumbledore seemed perfectly at ease with his reaction. It must be expected, and James was more and more grateful to have Snape working with him to keep the headmaster ignorant of the way he really grew up.

"Well, that is all I suppose. Class is starting in a few minutes. I wouldn't want you to be late." Dumbledore smiled, ushering James to the door. "You might want to talk to Professor Snape about maybe making a trip to Diagon Alley to buy a broom. If your aunt and uncle will sign the release form for you to take a trip off campus, of course."

"Of course, sir. Thank you, sir!" James offered the old coot a giant smile before skipping down the spiral staircase and sprinting off to class – not because he was eager to get there, but because he wanted to put as much distance between himself and the old bastard as possible.

"He was lying." James complained loudly, having decided to talk to Snape about his recent conversation with the headmaster. "He said my parents left me a vault – but they left me more than one. He didn't use the words 'trust fund' at all – obviously he doesn't want me to know about this. But I don't get it!"

"I am afraid I don't understand any more than you do, Mr. Potter." Snape grumbled. "However, it was smart of you to suppress the urge to call him on it. It is better that he believes you to be ignorant of those matters he wishes you to remain ignorant of. In the coming years, it will be imperative that he continues to underestimate you."

James scrunched his nose. "Yeah, yeah. I got that much. So – I have a question about Salazar Slytherin. I tried finding it in the books, but there isn't a whole lot of information about Slytherin especially considering how much there is about the other founders, and most of what there is just says that Slytherin was a bad, bad wizard and leaves it at that."

"It is true that a lot of the history about Salazar Slytherin has been omitted from text books in recent years – a misguided attempt to turn children away from the dark arts." Snape sneered. "I will answer your question as accurately as I can."

"Great!" James leaned back in his chair, grinning at Snape and throwing his feet up on the desk. "Tell me about his snake-language."

"Parseltongue?" Snape glared at James feet for a second before sending them tumbling off the desktop with a flick of his wand. "That is simple enough – Salazar Slytherin was famous for his ability to speak to snakes. Parseltongue isn't a language one can simply learn, it is a hereditary magical trait."

"So only someone from Slytherin's blood line could inherit it?" James asked slowly. "It's not possible for someone outside of the line to develop it?"

"I would not say it is impossible." Snape started cautiously, his eyes narrowed at James as he spoke. "There has never been a record of a parselmouth outside of Slytherin's bloodline, but that doesn't mean it is impossible. Keep in mind, though, that the most obvious answer is often the correct one – if one is a parselmouth, it is incredibly likely that he or she is a descendant of Slytherin."

"Really." James frowned, mulling it over. Snape was studying him carefully.

"Why the interest in parseltongue?"

"No reason – just found it fascinating. Heard the other kids talking about it. It would be bloody wicked to be able to talk to snakes, don't you think? I bet they have a lot to say."

"Perhaps. Or perhaps they are simple creatures and they have nothing of interest to say." Snape smirked as James bristled.

"I don't believe that for a second."

"I'll bet you don't." Snape was still studying him intently, and James squirmed as he got up to leave. "Do take care to keep this scholarly interest in parseltongue quiet. It is generally associated with the dark arts."

James scowled, pausing at the office door. "You know – there are a lot of things people assume. One last question – how are we ever going to prove people wrong if we're afraid of how they're going to react?"

Snape didn't answer that, and James didn't care to hang around any longer.

Severus was taking a much needed break from grading and detentions. There was a sign posted on his office door that he was out for the evening, directing his snakes to take any problems to Minerva or wait for the following day. With that settled, he flooed to Malfoy Manor.

"Severus!" Narcissa greeted him warmly, sweeping up to brush a kiss over his cheek. "This is a surprise! Is everything alright? Draco isn't in trouble, is he?"

"Draco is fine." Severus assured. "I simply decided I needed a night away from the school. I apologize for dropping by unannounced."

"It's no problem." Narcissa ushered him towards the sitting room. "You're always welcome. You're staying for dinner?"

"Of course."

"Excellent. Lucius is in the sitting room. I'm going to pop into the kitchen and let them know you're joining us. Get yourself a drink, and I'll be back shortly."

Severus nodded, heading on his own to the sitting room, where he found Lucius poring over a scattering of handwritten notes. He startled when he caught sight of Severus, but stood and held out his hand.

"Severus! Business or pleasure?"

"Mental health." Severus drawled with a slight smirk.

"I see." Lucius grinned. "In that case, I wasn't expecting you for another month at least. Have the brats already frayed your patience that much?"

"You have no idea." Severus sighed heavily, helping himself to a generous glass of firewhiskey and taking a seat directly across from his friend. "James is a complete nightmare. I feel like I've aged ten years since he stepped foot in that castle. Do you know, he made the Slytherin quidditch team as a reserve?"

"Yes. I've heard all about it from Draco – however did he manage that? I was under the impression the rest of the house did not like him."

"They don't." Severus snorted. "They attacked him after his first flying listen."

"I see. And he impressed them?"

"Something along those lines." Severus nodded at Narcissa when she slipped into the room. "Actually, I have a couple of forms for the Dursleys to sign. I was wondering if either of you would like to do the honors of paying them a visit."

"I would!" Narcissa responded immediately, flushing slightly when both the men raised an eyebrow at her. "What!? I'm allowed to have a bit of fun, aren't I? And there are a few new, rather creative hexes I would like to test out."

Severus chuckled. "Very well. I have the forms here."

Narcissa took the forms, reading them silently. "A vision correction procedure?"

"Yes. Apparently the boy has been wearing muggle contact lenses – which are essentially small lenses that sit directly on the eye. I find the practice distasteful."

"That is abhorrent." Lucius agreed sagely. "And if the boy is to play quidditch, his eyesight will certainly need to be in top shape."

"Indeed." Severus agreed. "Have you had any luck finding out who the boy lives with?"

"No." Lucius scowled. "Which is ridiculous. Muggles shouldn't be so hard to track. Yet, there are no connections to that man in the Hospital – the only person that ever visits him is Potter! And none of the staff know him as anything other than James."

"Well, they are criminals." Narcissa's nose scrunched in distaste. "I imagine in the muggle world they are just as careful to keep their anonymity as in the magical world. Have you managed to get any more information out of James?"

"No." Severus frowned. "The boy is as tight lipped as ever. And since I explained Legilimency to him, it's become even more difficult to get a read on him. But it had to be done if we're to keep Albus out of the loop."

"Is there not a way for us to circumvent the headmaster altogether? Legally, what right does Dumbledore have to dictate the boy's life? Who is legally responsible for him?" Lucius asked. "It is ridiculous that we have to tread so carefully for fear of the headmaster discovering that the boy isn't still stuck with his abusive relatives."

"According to the school records, Petunia Dursley is Harry Potter's guardian." Severus scowled darkly. "However, I've hit a wall of red tape every time I've tried to access official documentation. I have been unable to find out who should have been his guardian after Black went to Azkaban. My first guess would have been Lupin, but I imagine there would be an uproar if we tried to get the boy who lived into the custody of a werewolf. And that would blow everything wide open and ruin our chances of figuring out something safe."

"That's right – my cousin was his godfather." Narcissa drawled, tapping her chin delicately with one finger. "That is curious – do you know he never got a trial? I never gave it a second thought, but in light of everything I am finding that quite suspicious."

"What do you mean?" Severus asked.

"Well, after the Potters died, guardianship of their son would pass automatically to Sirius."

"Yes. But considering Black betrayed them – "

"Then guardianship should have passed on to the next person in the Potter's will – if my cousin had a trial, that's exactly what would have happened. But since he was never tried, legally, Black is still James' guardian. Convenient, isn't it? It creates a loophole that allows Dumbledore to act as he sees fit."

Severus felt more than a little sick at the thought. "You cannot seriously be considering – a lot of people were imprisoned without trials back then!"

"Not really!" Lucius leaned forward in his seat, eyebrows furrowed and his hands clasped tightly in his lap. "Their trials were just delayed. It might have taken years to get through them all, but they were eventually gotten to. I don't think the Wizengamot was in any hurry to uphold the rights of Deatheaters, but they did eventually get to them. Especially once Crouch was ousted from his fast-track to power."

"So you're saying. . ."

"Black should have had a trial already – in fact, you would think they would have been eager to try him sooner to get him the Dementors Kiss after his betrayal. Instead, he's been rotting away in a cell in limbo. And I guarantee the trial never happened, otherwise we would have been notified that Sirius lost all rights to the Black family assets. And so long as he hasn't been tried. . ."

". . . Then Harry Potter's guardianship is undecided." Severus finished. "How hard would it be to get Black his trial?"

"Not hard, I shouldn't think." Lucius smirked. "It won't even be very expensive – Fudge would probably jump at the suggestion to tie up a loose end like this. I can have a lawyer on it within a week."

Narcissa hesitated at this. "Are we certain we should blindly go this route – as you said, we don't know who was named guardian in the event that Black couldn't take care of him. What if it is Dumbledore? If it is, we'll have just made his power over the boy absolute."

"It can't be." Severus pointed out. "If it was, Albus would have no reason to prevent Black's trial and not secure himself as Potter's guardian."

"Yes – but it would still be foolish to proceed without knowing who would have rights to the boy." Narcissa argued.

"Can you talk to Potter about the will? He should be able to request a copy of it from Gringotts, should he not? Then we can either choose to proceed or not. I'll still speak with my lawyers. It won't hurt to be prepared to move on this as soon as we have the go ahead."

"If we do move ahead with this, Albus will know immediately. He is the head of the Wizangamot." Severus said.

"In that case, perhaps it would be best if Lucius and I pursue this on our own." Narcissa commented. "After all, we do have a vested interest in the outcome of Sirius' trial – when he is found guilty and loses the Black assets, Draco would likely become the sole heir to the house of Black."

Lucius nodded in approval. "That is more than acceptable. Hide one motivation within another – Dumbledore would never suspect the Malfoys of championing a Potter."

Severus nodded, however his frown had deepened. "Why are you so anxious to help the boy?"

Lucius looked floored by the question, and Narcissa smirked. "Well – despite what he'll argue to the contrary, Lucius does have a sweet side. Further, both myself and Lucius refuse to stand for the last of the Potter line to be mistreated so, regardless of our family's political differences. It is a shame to purebloods to allow such a thing to happen. Mostly, Lucius is fond of James. And of course, it can't be said that we don't foresee certain benefits from forging an alliance with Harry Potter, particularly since he isn't a clone of his father or Dumbledore's mindless little drone."

Severus smirked, more than appeased with the explanation. Lucius looked put out.

"I am not sweet."

"Of course, Dear." Narcissa smirked at her husband.

"I'm not!"

"There is another thing that I need to research." Severus interrupted the argument before it could break into a full-fledged fight. With Narcissa and Lucius such a fight could end up destroying half the manor or lead them to loud, violent make-up sex that would have them busy for the rest of the night. And Severus had a few more things he needed to discuss with them. "However, I am having trouble finding information in the Hogwarts library and even in my own private tomes. I have been unable to scour the books in Knockturne Alley, but even then I think the information is likely to be hard to come by. I believe the Ministry has been censoring it for too long – it was my hope there might be some volumes in your private collection on the subject."

"What subject is that?" Lucius asked, though the gleam in his eye as he stared at his wife was hint enough that the argument would pick up again at the first opportunity.

"I am seeking information on parseltongue – more precisely its origins and any possible cases of parselmouths appearing outside of Slytherin's line."

The subject was surprising enough that Lucius was immediately drawn from dwelling on Narcissa's accusation that he was 'sweet.' "Why are you suddenly interested? I can tell you right now that there has never been a parselmouth outside of Slytherin's line – if you go back far enough, you'll find that Salazar Slytherin himself was descended from Herpo, the first known parselmouth. Every parselmouth throughout history can be traced back to the line if you try hard enough. The Dark Lord did so, and he was the last of Slytherin's line."

"I see." Severus frowned. "So, hypothetically speaking, if I were to discover a parselmouth, the person in question would have to be related to the Dark Lord in some way?"

"Hypothetically – unless there was another line of Slytherin's Heirs that reemerged." Lucius explained.

"That is quite troubling." Severus scowled.

"You've found a parselmouth!?" Lucius asked incredulously.

"I am not one hundred percent certain." Severus insisted. "However, the questions I was asked led me to believe this student's interests were more than just passing curiosity."

Narcissa was frowning in concentration before her eyes suddenly lit up. "Oh! Do tell me who! It is James, isn't it!?"

Severus sighed heavily. "That obvious?"

"Of course!" Narcissa was only just keeping herself from squirming in her seat at the excitement. "Who else would it be – everything extraordinary that has happened in the past months has been directly related to him. Of course this would tie back to him – and it might make more sense as to why the Dark Lord targeted him specifically when he was an infant!"

Severus hadn't considered that, but at the same time he only had knowledge of two lines of a prophecy made by that cracked old bat, Trelawney. Dumbledore wasn't keen to share his theories.

"If the boy is a parselmouth. . ." Lucius frowned heavily. "That could be dangerous for him – you are indeed correct that the Ministry has been working to censor information on parseltongue. Partly out of paranoia and fear, partly out of ignorance, and mostly out of arrogance. It is unilaterally believed that parseltongue is a dark language, a talent possessed only by the darkest of witches and wizards. I would be worried about the boy getting persecuted for being a speaker."

"I have mentioned this to him – and yet he seems determined to disregard what other people think of him altogether. He seems to think he can change people's assumptions."

"That is a dangerous road." Lucius commented idly.

"Perhaps." Severus agreed. "But he's already making progress within Slytherin, I suppose. He's earned some respect – partly because he does refuse to back down, refuse to change just because others think he should. It is still tentative now, but I imagine this trend will continue. Outside of Slytherin will be harder, though he's already creating a handpicked circle – making alliances that I've no doubt will benefit him for years to come."

"Making alliances – does he not consider them friends?"

"He might, eventually. But I don't think he trusts enough to consider them friends just yet." Severus shrugged. "He is very intelligent, and it reflects in the type of people he chooses to associate with. Hermione Granger – a muggleborn, but incredibly bright. Top of her class alongside Potter. The only reason Potter hasn't gotten her beat is because his homework skills are abysmal."

Lucius' mouth quirked into a sneer. "A muggleborn?"

"Do not start that, Lucius." Severus chided. "You aren't so blinded by pureblood fanaticism that you can't see there are many muggleborns out there with something to offer – I know for a fact you overlook blood-status when it benefits you."

Lucius grudgingly nodded, but the distasteful sneer hadn't left his face. "Dare I ask who else he's considered 'worthy?'"

"Fred and George Weasley." Severus couldn't resist a sneer of his own at their names. "Twins – complete menaces. Their entire existence revolves around pranks. But I will admit that they are geniuses in their own right. And James has taken up with them."

Narcissa scrunched her nose. "I imagine that is an unsavory alliance. Have they been wreaking havoc together?"

"They faked a kappa infestation." Severus muttered. "Successfully – it wasn't until the Ministry launched a full investigation that the hoax was discovered."

"That is rather impressive." Lucius admitted calmly. "Why?"

"Because James told Minerva that a Kappa ate his homework." Severus drawled.

Lucius and Narcissa stared at him for a long second before bursting out laughing. Severus couldn't help but chuckle along with them. It was rather ludicrous.

"But I don't want a guardian!"

Severus pinched the bridge of his nose. "Try to be logical about this. Where you stand, you are on a very precarious ledge. I do not know what will happen when the headmaster discovers you've been running amok with a group of criminals for years, but I highly doubt he will react favorably! We have a small window of opportunity here – to act while the headmaster is none-the-wiser."

"But I like things the way they are! You said we could keep this up, keep playing like I am still living with them, and leave things the way they are."

"It will not work for the long run!" Severus growled. "Eventually the headmaster will pay the Dursleys a visit in person, in which case the game will be up in an instant! Further, should the headmaster figure out the truth without us knowing, we have no idea what the consequences will be. Further – " He held up a hand to silence the boy. "Further, I know you are intent upon protecting the people you have been living with. Do you have any idea what will happen to them if the wizarding world gets word that they kidnapped you!?"

James fell silent at that.

"It would be foolish not to investigate this course of action." Severus explained calmly. "We may not pursue this route at all – it all depends on who was listed as your second guardian in your parents will. Should that person be unsavory, or deceased, or in any way unable to take over your guardianship, we will have to figure something else out."

"What happens if there's no one?" James asked hopefully. "If there isn't someone who can be my guardian? Would that mean I get left alone?"

"No." Severus scowled. "That means the Ministry of Magic would appoint you an appropriate guardian, and there are a whole list of likely candidates in that scenario. It is likely that the headmaster would be appointed your guardian, though if that were the case, if the will really doesn't dictate who else besides Black was named your guardian, it is likely the headmaster would have already pushed through with this and secured you within his guardianship from the start. No, it is much more likely that there is a legitimate second candidate. But we need to know who. Therefore, you need to request a certified copy of your parents will from Gringotts. Had I known you were enquiring about your parents estate, I would have suggested you request a copy of the will at the same time."

James scowled ferociously, crossing his arms over his chest. "This is fucked up."

"Language." Severus chided tiredly. "This weekend I will be escorting you to Diagon Alley so you may purchase a broom. As we will be making a trip to Gringotts during our visit, you can request a copy of the will in person."

"But I don't want to!"

"And I cannot force you!" Severus roared. "But keep this in mind when it comes back to bite you in the arse and you are ripped from your precious lifestyle with absolutely no choice in where you are going to end up! Because when that happens, I will be right there to tell you 'I told you so!'"

"Fuck you and fuck your wizarding world and fuck Dumbledore and fuck his stupid beard and his stupid sparkly eyes!" James stormed a wide circle around the office before coming to stand in front of Severus' desk. "Fine! But I get the final say in whether we try this or not! If it's someone I don't like, or someone I don't know – it's off. No go. Got it?"

"As you wish." Severus gritted through clenched teeth. "You're an ungrateful brat. You realize this is in your best interest, do you not?"

"Your definition of my best interest is different from mine!" James yelled, flipping around and heading for the office door.

"One last thing." Severus snapped.

"Really? What's that?"

"I do believe you can return to the Slytherin dormitories." Severus suggested calmly.

"Like hell!"

"You are underestimating the importance of your spot on the quidditch team. I guarantee that Flint at the very least will not allow your housemates to have a go at you any longer. He's not likely to admit it any time soon, but you have forced quite a bit of respect from him. And above everything else, he'll stand by the fact that the team comes first."

"Right." James snorted. "I would risk life and limb on that bet."

"Suit yourself. But it is going to turn bitterly cold soon, and the house elves actually keep the dorms quite warm." Severus watched with narrowed eyes as the boy stormed from his office without replying and obviously not swayed by Severus' assurances in the least.