AN: Thank you all for your kind words! Be assured I read them all! But answering them all, or reacting individually isn't all that easy :) especially on ffnet, but each of the comments helps to keep me going.
Monday, 1st of July 1996
For the first day of the summer holidays, it had been an early morning. But if Harry was honest, he hadn't expected anything different. Marcus had woken Harry up much too early, but as he had an appointment with Madame Goyle just after a normal breakfast time, it wasn't that inconvenient.
Currently they – Marvolo, Marcus, and Harry himself – were walking from a hidden backstreet, where Marvolo had apparated them to, all the way to the office where Madame Goyle usually met with her patients. And Marcus was already nagging.
"Why can't we just wait for Harry to be done? I want to go to the Zoo with him!" Marcus was skipping along, holding Marvolo's hand, and Harry just grinned. He wasn't exactly looking forward to the appointment, but he did look forward to a day spent with his godfather while Marvolo and Marcus visited the London Zoo.
"Because the idea of this appointments is that Harry gets to talk to Madame Goyle without anyone listening in. So she can help him with problems he might have that need talking about to be solved. And after that, Lord Black will pick him up," Marvolo explained – again – with more patience than Harry would have thought the man capable of just last summer. "And while Harry is off doing that, we're going to have a nice day in the Zoo looking at all the different animals, eating an ice cream or two, and generally having a good time."
Harry had suggested the Zoo as a place for his brother and father to go to, as he fondly remembered the first snake he had ever spoken to. And the summer was going to be long enough for more than one visit. If the way Marcus spoke with Nagini was any indication, he would be delighted to speak with more snakes.
They had to stop at a traffic light when it turned red. Next to them a woman with a girl – holding hands just as Marvolo and Marcus were doing – also waited for the lights to change, and for once Harry was sure that he wasn't looked at in disdain for his oversized, washed-out, and torn clothes. If anything their clothes screamed wealth.
"Can I also go to her, to talk without anyone listening?" Marcus asked suddenly, and Harry wondered if he actually understood what going to a therapist entailed, and why someone might want to do it.
"In principle, there's nothing that says you can't. But we'll have to ask her if she has time for another patient, and if she feels she is able to… take on our whole family." Harry noticed that their father quickly had changed tracks in there. Harry vaguely remembered that there were specialists for children as young as Marcus was. Madame Goyle had been Marvolo's first choice because she was related to one of his Death Eaters – giving him a unique kind of leverage over the situation – and knowledge of the magical world and its existence. With Harry being a teenager when he started seeing her, the question of whether she had what was needed to work with small children hadn't come up.
Not that making a point of Marcus being a small child would go over well with him. He was finished with his first year of school, after all, and therefore no longer one of the small children. At least according to him, who declared those still in kindergarten babies.
"What's she called?" Marcus wanted to know as the lights turned green and they all started to cross the street.
"You mean her occupation?" Marvolo asked for clarification, getting a quick series of nods in answer, as Marcus insisted on walking quicker, passing by Harry to walk in front. "Therapist is what she has written on her door." Which was technically true, even though she would be called a mind-healer in the magical world. But they couldn't really say that when people around them – who probably were muggles – could hear.
And they were listening. Harry had seen the quick glance from the woman, assessing him, and now not only noticing the well-made clothing – tailored, just as everything else in his wardrobe – but also the fact that Harry was on his way to a therapy session. For a moment he wondered what she might be construing in her head as the reason he was going to a therapist. Was he a bored, idle student being dragged there to make him perform to his parents' expectations? Had he tormented an animal, or even a fellow student, getting off lightly because of their wealth? Or maybe she thought he was stressed out? Before Harry could descend ever deeper into what others might think of his consulting a mind-healer – the Dursleys certainly never had anything positive to say about those abnormal enough to need a psychoanalyst – he reminded himself of something he had learned since the first appointment. Asking for help was not a weakness. With all the bad reactions one had to fear, it required a lot of bravery to admit one needed help and to seek it out.
When Harry and his family turned left and the woman and the girl turned right, Harry could breathe more easily. It was unimportant what strangers thought of him. It was even unimportant what people he knew thought of him. It was harder than it should be to convince himself of that, but Harry knew it to be true. In this the only thing of importance was that Harry should do what was good for him. And going to speak with Madame Goyle was helping Harry deal with everything that kept happening in his life, as well as everything that already had happened.
And it sounded as if Marvolo thought it would be good for Marcus as well. "We'll ask her. And if she doesn't have time, she might know someone who does. How does that sound?"
Harry didn't listen, but followed behind them, thinking deeply, and relying on Marvolo to find the way.
Was there a reason for Marcus to go to therapy?
After a few moments Harry had to agree that it couldn't hurt. Marcus had been in the foster system, which wasn't ideal even though he hadn't ended up with uninterested families, nor had he been forced to change families too frequently. But he probably had had a few less-than-ideal experiences in his past, and more than likely would have complicated situations in his future.
"I really wanna go as well!" Marcus said in a tone Harry knew well enough to recognize that he had repeated that sentence more than once.
"And I have already said that we'll have to ask Madame Goyle. We can't just decide to take up her time, Marcus." Judging by Marvolo's tone Harry had missed quite a few moments of back and forth over this.
They stepped through the door into the waiting area of the office. It was early enough that Harry was the first patient of the day, so the door to the actual office was open.
"Lord Slytherin, Harry, Marcus, good morning. Do come in." Just as always she was wearing a pencil skirt and a jacket, some make-up – somehow Harry had started to pay attention to things like that – and a smile.
"Good morning, Madame Goyle," Marvolo greeted, giving her a nod. "Before Marcus and I leave, I wanted to ask you to consider taking on Marcus as your patient as well. He would like to come speak to you, just as Harry and I do."
Madame Goyle turned to look at Marcus directly. "And you think that I could help you with a problem?"
Instead of answering, Marcus suddenly was shy, hiding behind Marvolo. Which wasn't as effective as it would have been if Marvolo had been wearing robes. Trousers weren't as good at blocking the line of sight.
"I'll think about it, Marcus. Come in Harry." With a wave Harry followed Madame Goyle into the office, being greeted by her tomcat weaving his way around his legs.
Then he sat down in the comfortable armchair, trying to relax. This was different than the room they had used off the hospital wing at Hogwarts.
"How was your start into the summer holidays, Harry?" Madame Goyle asked after she had settled down herself.
For a moment Harry wasn't sure he wanted to talk much today. Maybe drawing something would be easier. He could order his thoughts, find a point to start.
And then he simply started to talk, fiddling with the hem of his polo shirt. "I'm feeling bad for being jealous of Marcus. He gets to do so many things I never had a chance to try. But he should get to try those things. Right?" Before long Harry was talking and talking and talking, Tom the kneezle on his lap, purring, while he just rambled on and on. Their last meeting hadn't been long ago, but somehow there was a lot to talk about anyway.
Instead of apparating them, Marvolo had decided to take the tube and wasn't sure it had been a good idea. They had gotten off at Camden Town and then had walked to the Zoo. And only the facts that Marcus had enjoyed taking public transportation and Marvolo did want his son to be able to move around in the muggle world without difficulty made the experience bearable. It simply had been too crowded for Marvolo to enjoy the travel.
Then they had bought tickets at the entrance to the Zoo and started to make their round. Determined to go to the reptile house last – there was no way they were going to go anywhere else once Marcus started to talk with the snakes there – Marvolo had turned them left, visiting the birds first. Between birds of prey, penguins, and parrots, Marcus had had many interesting animals to look at. After that they had looked at butterflies – not a favourite of Marcus – and bugs which had appealed a lot more to his son. The lions had been lazing around too much to keep a little boy's interest, and so he found himself now sitting on one bench of many lining a children's playground, resting.
"Here alone?" another man sat down on the bench standing right next to the one Marvolo had settled on. Turning his attention to his seating neighbour – secure in the knowledge that he had put a tracking charm on Marcus before he had let him loose to play – Marvolo took in the sight of a muggle dressed much more casually than he himself was.
"No. My son is playing somewhere in there." Marvolo waved his hand at the interesting structure children were climbing around on.
The other man chuckled. "I'm waiting for my wife and our daughters. We agreed to meet here once they've found the ice cream they wanted to have." Without a clue why this stranger insisted on talking to him, Marvolo turned back to the playground under the pretence that he needed to keep an eye out for his son and his safety. "So you're giving your wife a nice day without the kid running around?"
Well aware of the usual roles assigned to women and men in this part of the muggle world, Marvolo refrained from rolling his eyes. He really had little to stand on here, there only had been one woman in his inner circle, and traditional families still expected the witches to take care of the children until they all were old enough to attend Hogwarts. For the most part, at least.
"There is no wife. My older son is back from school for the summer and visiting his uncle today. So I'm entertaining the younger one here. No need to let him feel left out." No need to give more information than needed to this random muggle, taking a more than passing interest in Marvolo's affairs.
For a moment there was only the sound of various animals, shrieking and laughing children, and off in the distance those of the city.
Then a woman and two girls approached their benches, talking with the man, obviously the wife and daughters he had spoken of. While they talked a mile a minute, even while eating their ice cream, Marvolo tried to enjoy giving Marcus an experience he hadn't gotten himself at that age.
He could remember quite clearly that when he had been relatively young – maybe four, or five – almost everyone at the orphanage had visited the Zoo. He had been banned from going as punishment for something. He didn't remember what it had been, only that he had known without a doubt that he hadn't done anything to deserve that punishment. Now, many decades later, Marvolo thought that he might have displayed an act of accidental magic without knowing that he had done so.
So maybe he had been responsible for whatever he had been accused of, but it still hadn't been something to be punished for.
Most likely, at least.
"Dad! Dad!" Marcus came running, a grin on his face, and sand on his knees. "There's a slide back there! And swings! Can you come and give me a push?" Small, sandy, hands were firmly gripping Marvolo's own, leaving sand all over his expensive trousers. Maybe going out in a fine three piece suit hadn't been the best idea. But when he wasn't able to wear robes, an old-fashioned, tailored suit was his clothing of choice. It basically was what wizards wore on a daily basis under their robes anyway.
"Sure I can. Lead the way!" Marvolo stood, happy to have an excuse to minimize his interaction with that stranger, and followed his son over to a few sets of swings, to give him the pushes he wanted.
After they had got the swing going, Marcus managed pretty well on his own, it just had been a little high off the ground for Marcus to give himself a good push to start out.
"Can we go see the snakes next?" Marcus asked with a look of concentration on his face, clearly still working out how a swing worked.
Giving a small sigh, Marvolo nodded. "I guess we can go see the snakes next. And all the other reptiles. But you know that they probably aren't as active as you would like. You know that they like to laze about." Better to remind Marcus of that fact than have a disappointed boy on his hands later.
"I'm sure I can get them interested!" Marcus was confident, and probably with good reason. There had yet to be a snake Marvolo met which was not excited to meet with a speaker.
And once they arrived at the reptile house Marvolo was proven right on both his suspicions for how this visit would go.
Every one of the snakes Marcus had looked at had been delighted to meet him and to speak with him. And the fact that Marcus didn't tire of hearing from them about their days – which were terribly mundane in Marvolo's opinion – led to a rather extended stay in this part of the Zoo.
In fact they stayed long enough here that the man, his wife, and daughters from earlier came in while Marcus was talking in low hisses with one of the pythons living here.
"Can't we just go and look at the penguins some more?" one of the girls asked in a whine that seemed well practiced.
"Or the monkeys!" her sister threw in from the side, slinking around clearly less than happy to go look at the reptiles.
"You both know how your father likes reptiles. We were everywhere you wanted to go, and now it's his turn picking what we'll look at." The mother tried to be stern but sounded mostly tired to Marvolo's ears.
.:We never get live mice:. one python had just complained to Marcus while hanging leisurely from a branch that had been installed near the glass pane so people had a better chance to actually get to see the animals living here.
.:I guess that's pretty boring then:. Marcus answered, commiserating with the snake.
To pass the time Marvolo walked from terrarium to terrarium, looking at the illustrations and informational texts hung by each of them. He did know a lot of the different types of snakes – he had made it a project of his to learn everything about snakes he could as soon as he had been old enough to go to school – but reading about the specific individuals here was something new and something to do while Marcus went about getting to know them all.
"It seems as if your boy thinks he can actually speak with snakes." There was a hint of derision in the muggle's voice, and Marvolo barely managed to refrain from rolling his eyes.
"A child's imagination is a wondrous thing," Marvolo said in a deceptively mild tone, it was even the truth. "He plays and has fun. Where is the harm in that?" And why did that man think it was his place to make fun of a child in this way?
The man huffed and moved on, clearly looking down on Marcus running over to Marvolo with shining eyes, starting to speak several paces before he actually had reached his father. "Do you think we can get the snakes here some live mice? It's boring to always just be getting dead ones!"
The girls made gagging noises in the background and Marvolo ignored them in favour of answering his son's question. "While they certainly would enjoy the variety in possible activity a live mouse would provide, I think it's not done to make sure that the mice are actually eaten by the snakes where a human can see and check that everything is alright."
Marcus nodded earnestly. "And they can't ask the snakes if they managed to catch the mice. So they can't let them run for the snakes to hunt?"
"That's correct." Because the muggles working here certainly couldn't ask the snakes anything.
Happy with that explanation Marcus returned to his hissed conversations with the various snakes, running back and forth to carry messages between them with a happy smile on his face. He even insisted to say goodbye to each of them before they could leave when it was late afternoon.
Unwilling to once again brave the tube, Marvolo searched for a sheltered spot they could apparate from and took them home, where they would wait for Harry to return home from his visit to his godfather.
A pitcher with ice cold lemonade was standing with two tall glasses on a table right next to the door, where Sirius could just make it out past Harry. He felt like he could drink something, but when he looked down on his hands, the amount of oil and grease on them advised against taking up his wand to summon it, or to walk around the motorcycle and pick up a glass without cleaning his hands first.
"Harry, could you please pour me a glass of lemonade?" Even while he posed his request, Sirius looked down in search of the rag he had been using to clean his hands from time to time.
He spotted the rag under the front tire of the bike, and bent down to pick it up. When Sirius came back up, Harry was still polishing one spot on the bike with his own rag and a far-away look on his face.
"Earth to Harry! Can you hear me?" Sirius waved one hand in front of his godson's face, a little concerned wondering what had the boy so distracted today. He had picked Harry up after his appointment with that mind-healer. Maybe something troubling had come up?
Blinking, Harry focused on the waving hand – still mostly covered in stains – and gave a tentative smile. "Sorry, I'm a little distracted. You wanted something?"
"Yes. Can you pass me a glass of lemonade, please? I'm parched." Still remembering how he had hated it to be pressured to answer when he had been Harry's age, Sirius debated if this was a case of let-it-go, or one where he needed to be persistent.
Being an adult and mostly responsible was hard.
"Here you go," Harry said, extending his hand holding a glass full with lemonade – made with limes and lemons – across the motorcycle for Sirius to take.
He did look good. Not drawn or pale, too thin or in any other way sickly. Sirius was also sure that there were no glamours on him hiding any marks or stuff like that. As the Lord of the family, the wards around the house would have informed him about such magic. It always was an irritating itch in the back of his mind when someone vain enough to hide birthmarks or love bites with magic came over for a visit. But it was useful to make sure Remus wouldn't try to hide marks because he thought that bruise balms and healing potions were too expensive.
So, what was wrong? Because something clearly was on Harry's mind.
"Thanks. Take one for yourself as well." He grabbed the glass with his left hand, as he hadn't really managed to clean the right with the already pretty dirty rag.
Drinking while Harry filled his own glass with lemonade and drank, Sirius came to the conclusion that he couldn't ignore Harry's mood, but that he would not poke and ask, but make a few guesses and just ask.
"How is that girlfriend of yours? Everything fine?" Love troubles, as Sirius remembered quiet vividly, were frequently the reason for upset and worries when one was only just starting out. Not that that necessarily stopped when one was older.
"Luna?" Harry asked, face brightening – not love trouble, then – and setting the now empty glass back down, he started to talk in a dreamy voice. "We'll all be meeting this weekend. Theo has invited everyone to come visit him. It'll be the longest we've been apart since the spring Holidays. I think I'll write her before that, though. Ask her for a date. Do you think she would like going to the cinema? I don't even know what films are currently being shown. Do you think you could get me a program that's recent?"
At the end there Harry had gotten more and more excited and Sirius felt some of his worry ease. Whatever trouble was plaguing Harry's mind wasn't of an earth shattering consequence if he could get that lost and excited over planning a date with his girlfriend.
"You know that I'm taking a portkey over to meet Nawel and Enora later tomorrow, right? I'm pretty sure I told you not so long ago that I had arranged everything." And while he was nervous, he also was absolutely hyped to spend the summer with his daughters and get to know them better.
Harry blinked and blushed. "Oh, yeah. You did tell me that." There was a short awkward pause. "Do you think Remus would be willing to help?"
Sirius laughed and quickly bent forward to ruffle Harry's hair. "Oh, pup! I'm sure he will. I'll make sure to write a letter if he sleeps longer than usual and shouldn't be back home before I have to leave. No worries!"
For a moment Harry looked confused before understanding dawned on his face. "Oh, right. Today is the full moon! Hadn't thought of that."
"No problem, Harry. And I'm sure you could make Lord Slytherin buy a muggle newspaper to check what cinemas are playing what films at the moment." That image – Marvolo Slytherin going to a muggle to buy a newspaper – made Sirius grin and for a while the two of them worked in silence.
"Can I ask you something?" Harry sounded hesitant and Sirius suddenly was pretty sure that whatever had been on his godson's mind was about to be revealed.
"Sure you can." Had that been casual enough? Had it been too casual? He didn't want to appear uninterested.
"What do you think of the Oculus Sanus potion?" Harry tried to sound as if it wasn't really all that important, but his tense posture and the light strain in his voice gave him away. Sometimes having grown up with a Slytherin family did have its advantages. That he had needed those long-thought-lost skills a lot in his role as Lord Black made it only easier to read his godson now. "Well, it's one of those that make one wonder why exactly it's banned in the first place. I know that your father never took it, and that the Weasleys would never use it. But otherwise it's still pretty common to use, as far as I understand."
"Really?" Harry sounded honestly surprised by that, which confused Sirius.
"Yes. I'm pretty sure I took one when I was about six. I think? Not sure. Why do you think so few witches and wizards actually wear glasses? There are, of course, transfiguration, and a few temporary charms. But I think mostly people get the potion. Even if they have to go out of the country to do so. It's an effective measure." Sirius shrugged, watching the other carefully.
"Huh. It sounded more rare when I heard of it for the first time." Harry shrugged and suddenly looked a lot more relaxed.
Had that been the problem?
"I think there aren't many left who can brew it here in Britain. But other parts of the world aren't as obsessed with such things as the Ministry has been in the past." He shrugged again and tried to remember what he had wanted to do next. Maybe he would find another motorcycle over at his daughter's home, leaving his baby back here somehow didn't feel right. "Can you pass me the wrench?"
The grass was pretty dry and the air filled with the sounds of crickets and the smells of dry plants, flowers, and small animals. The biggest animal that recently had wandered through this birch forest had been a fox.
Almost on its own, Remus' nose moved closer to the forest ground, sniffing in search of a trail. As Padfoot couldn't be here this night, Remus needed to find something to amuse himself with before he found himself a comfy spot of moss to sleep on.
Even as normally he preferred the presence of another during his transformations, Remus did understand that Sirius was going to travel to the home of his cubs, and needed the time.
Moony shook his head, and huffed. Even with Wolfsbane at hand – still provided by Severus and paid for by Lord Slytherin – his thought patterns were affected during the nights of the full moon. While it wasn't really a problem if Padfoot was with him, it did remind him that he wasn't willing to risk a human in his presence.
How much Dora did try to convince him it was safe notwithstanding.
He had offered her the arrangement Sirius and he had used during the winter, as it had been too cold to be outside the whole night. But she wasn't comfortable with the idea of the big, warded cast-iron cage. So Remus was here alone, and Dora was home with her parents, pouting.
And that when she, as an Auror, should know the rules for werewolves, what he had to do to comply with them, and what would happen if he didn't.
Shaking himself vigorously, loose hair flying in all directions, Moony tried to get rid of the gloomy thoughts. There was nothing he could do right here and now. But, he sniffed, it seemed it had been less than a few minutes that a rabbit had come through here.
Discarding all worries outside of the desire to catch that rabbit, Remus fell into a light trot, nose close to the ground, careful to be quiet as not to alarm the animal when he drew close.
Tuesday, 2nd of July 1996
The rhythmic sound of the knife hitting the cutting board was kind of soothing. Sonja was sitting in the chair Severus had transfigured for her in his potions laboratory back home at the Manor. Not that it actually felt like home just yet, more like a dream, a wonderful dream she feared to wake from to realize it all had been just that.
Snuggling back into her blanket – it wasn't really all that warm here in the laboratory as Severus liked to have it cool – Sonja reminded herself that this was very much real. She was married, expecting a baby, and somehow had managed to become a Lady. Not that climbing the social ladder had been her aspiration at any time. But with Severus had come the family name of Price, including a title, a seat on the Wizengamot, and this manor with its many laboratories and wonderful gardens.
"What are you brewing?" Sonja asked her husband, closing the book she had been reading in favour of a talk with her love.
"A new batch of Oculus Sanus potion. Lord Slytherin sent a letter to ask for it. It seems that Mr. Slytherin has seen sense." There was a bite in that statement that by now probably was more habit than anything else. "But I guess I'll see when he returns to school for the next year."
Sonja frowned. "Occlumency lessons are over, then? Did he already make that much progress?" The lessons had gone on the whole school year, she had thought they would continue for much longer.
"He has learned enough for what he needs. He can control his temper and deflect attacks on his mind by an outside force. He doesn't need the ability to forge memories, lie to a Legilimens in his own mind, or resist torture and truth serums. He and I can spend our time more productively." Severus placed the knife down, moving over to one of the sinks to clean it immediately.
"I guess that makes sense," Sonja conceded. Who would need to withstand torture and truth serums? Hopefully not a teenaged boy.
Placing her chin in her hand, smiling, Sonja couldn't resist and simply had to ask. "Do you think he'll manage to score high enough in his Potions exam to make it into your NEWT classes?"
Standing in front of one of the many shelves of potion ingredients – painstakingly ordered to Severus' specifications – Severus took his time answering, picking a few bottles from their places. "I think he has the potential. Especially as he has taken more interest in his academic performance ever since he was adopted, and especially after he was re-sorted. But I guess we'll have to wait and see if he has managed to keep a cool head on his shoulders during the exam. Both written and practical."
It was funny how much Severus had changed his perception of the boy in question. The staff all around had told her many stories about how Severus had always ranted about Harry Potter, the celebrity, the attention-seeking brat, breaking the rules just because he could. And now here he was, her stubborn and proud love, admitting that there was potential in the son of James Potter.
Not that he ever would use those words. And Sonja also wasn't blind to what had been necessary for her husband to see reason. The revelation of the harm the boy had suffered during his childhood under his muggle aunt's care – both through the potions he had had to take, and the fragments of memories Severus had seen during Occlumency lessons – had been instrumental in actually making Severus see reason.
Not that he had shared any specifics with Sonja. But one didn't need that to come to some specific conclusions after seeing the list of potions the boy had had to take.
Watching him work, all efficient motions and precision, Sonja thought back to the move here and the first evening they had spent making plans for the almost two months they would have here to themselves. They planned to put some finishing touches on all the potions Severus had worked on – he insisted she also had worked on them, planning to write her name onto all the publications – or at least the write-ups needed to publish and prepare for some more thorough testing. Especially for the Anteros Potion and the one testing familial connections and closeness. They had managed to get a few more tests in for the family connection potion, but the Anteros Potion needed another level of commitment for those willing to test it.
"Do you think we'll manage to dodge a few of those summer parties you've been grumbling about? I've seen the list of parties of past years, and there are quite a few we'll have to attend." She knew that Severus wasn't one for parties – indoors or otherwise – but she also knew that it was expected to attend them. She had decided to try softening him up a little bit in preparation. "We need to go to the Malfoy garden party. And I'm sure Lord Slytherin will organize something we'll totally have to attend." There was a sigh from Severus to that, which she could hear all the way over here over the bubbling sounds from the potion, and the slight scraping noise the stirrer made in the cauldron.
"Don't you think we can manage to get out of all the others on the grounds of not really knowing them, and your need to stay off your feet?" He sounded hopeful, and Sonja felt herself smirking.
"Not knowing them well is a reason to go, love. To get to know them. And as long as the healer doesn't say anything about staying in bed, I can stay off my feet perfectly fine at a nice garden party. There are things like benches and chairs, or even lounges." She laughed at him slumping his shoulders on purpose, exaggerating his movements. "If the Fudges organize a party, we'll have to go too. And the rest. Let's see. Shall we?"
"Maybe I'll get lucky and a few of the Potions conferences and meet-ups are going to take place on the same days as some of those social events." The disdain in those two innocent words was so thick that Sonja started to giggle, unable to stop until tears were running down her face and she was fighting for breath.
Suddenly Severus was standing right next to her chair, wand in hand, casting what Sonja guessed were diagnostic charms. "Are you feeling well, love?" The concern in his voice – he never sounded panicked, probably too much practice keeping his cool in a wide range of situations – sobered Sonja up pretty quickly.
"Yes. I'm fine. Don't worry." She placed one of her hands on Severus' arm, feeling her book slide down from the top of her leg to the side, lodging itself between her leg and the arm of the chair. "You're just too funny."
The face Severus made to that claim sent Sonja laughing again, making him scowl for real. Getting herself under control again, Sonja pushed him a little on the arm. "Get back to brewing, or do you want to have to start over because you let yourself be distracted by your wife?"
"Dastardly woman." Severus scowled, but when he turned she saw that scowl morph into a soft smile.
Fishing her book out from between the fold of her blanket, and the small space between her leg and the chair's arm, Sonja made herself comfortable again, going back to reading a manual on high society and the expected customs and manners. She wasn't ignorant, but not as knowledgeable as she wanted to be, either. Reading would get her a point to start. Once the child was born, there would be no more reason to avoid throwing some social functions herself. Sighing to herself, she went back to her reading.
Malcolm had known that being a family healer would be different from work at St. Mungo's when he had chosen to walk that path. The fact that he would be able to set his own working hours, within reason, and therefore be able to coordinate better his work as a healer for different families, and for the Death Eaters and his Lord, had been the deciding factor. But now, this very moment, the little quirks of being the healer for a whole family made it clear that this was absolutely the right thing for him.
"You're in good shape, Lord Slytherin," Malcolm started his assessment after a long look at the ritual's results. "If you keep up the duelling practice, there's no need to reduce the consumption of sweets, or otherwise chance your diet, my Lord." In fact Malcolm was surprised at how little the intake of sugar seemed to impact the Dark Lord's health. He started to gather up the ritual stones from where they had been placed on various places of the Dark Lord's body, putting them back on a small table because he would need them again soon.
While he worked he kept a tight leash on his features to keep up a friendly and professional mask. There in one corner of the nice room they were using sat Heir Slytherin, his younger brother on his lap. The boy displayed a curious mixture of curiosity, wariness, and boredom, while the older brother was grinning, his arms around the squirming boy. This wasn't the first time Malcolm had to work to gain the trust of a child, and he knew that letting them see the procedure helped a lot in that regard. That was why the Dark Lord had gone first, and his heir would be next.
"That's good to know," the Dark Lord said, sitting up, and rubbing his hands together. "I guess then I can get dressed again?"
"Of course, sir. You may get dressed again." Only long practice kept Malcolm from flinching at his audacity at correcting the Dark Lord. There was no reason to fear retribution. It had been a long while since the Dark Lord had passed out any punishments without a valid reason – being the last to arrive didn't count as valid in Malcolm's eyes – and he wouldn't do so in front of his sons. Or at least not in front of his younger son, as Malcolm was anything but sure about how much Henry Slytherin-Potter did or didn't know.
Lord Slytherin got up from the padded table-bench hybrid – transfigured for this visit – and picked up his trousers to get dressed, smirking in a way that made Malcolm nervous.
"Harry, maybe you could already change into the other shirt?" It took some convincing for Marcus Slytherin to get up so that Henry could start to change for his own exam.
When the boy was seated, ready for the ritual, Malcolm walked over and turned his back to the corner where now Lord Slytherin was seated on the chair, his younger son snuggled up against his chest.
"I assume that you have taken your potions as you were supposed to, Henry?" At the beginning of the meeting the teenager had asked to be called by his given name, citing the cumbersome length of his full name and titles as the reason.
"I did take what appeared with my meals, Healer Greengrass." The prim and proper way the boy was sitting there made Malcolm smirk, trying to be a good role model could do that to a child.
"That's good. Any problems since the last holidays?" He didn't really expect to hear a positive answer to that. If there had been any trouble, the Dark Lord would have made sure to have Malcolm at hand the evening of the evening the train came back to London.
"No problems, sir. I'm enjoying my summer." The boy was smiling, visibly more relaxed in the plain linen shirt, waiting to be told to lie down for the diagnostic ritual to begin. What a change from last summer and the very first examination.
"Then please lie down." While the teenager did as told, Malcolm once again started to explain what he was doing and why before he started to place the rune inscribed stones on their places on the boy's body. The glimpses he got from the little boy were entertaining, and distracting. There weren't that many children Malcolm had met who were this interested in the healing arts.
Once again the ritual was quickly finished, and Malcolm looked over the sheet of parchment with the results. They were encouraging. "You can stop using the potions to combat the damage you sustained in your early childhood, and your old breaks have healed nicely, too. I can confidently say that you're in good health, Henry."
"Thanks." Suddenly the boy was nervous, which made Malcolm curious. Did he want to ask something he wasn't comfortable with in front of his father and younger brother? "My eyes didn't change, did they?"
"No, they're still the same. Why do you ask?" Maybe he should check the prescription for the glasses? If his patient had noticed a change, that might be a good idea.
"I'm debating if I should take the potion to correct the problem. It's easier than constantly having to keep track of the glasses, but well, I wanted to make sure it's still an option." Henry shrugged, clearly uncomfortable.
Cutting the boy some slack, Malcolm smiled and waved for him to get dressed again. "There were no changes, so you still can take the potion to get your eyesight corrected if you so desire."
"Thank you." Henry Slytherin-Potter dressed again in his fashionable light summer clothes – trousers, a shirt, and open robes – and made room for his younger brother who had changed into a linen shirt of his own with the Dark Lord's help.
According to his previous experiences, this exam was going to follow one of a few distinct patterns. Either he would have to answer more questions than was reasonable, he would have to coax the boy every step of the way, or he would be so fidgety and twitchy that they would have to start over more than once.
Hoping for a barrage of questions, Malcolm waved the small child over. "And now let's have a look at you. Shall we?"
Wednesday, 3rd of July 1996
As usual she had worked until late in the evening. So it was rather late in the morning when Rita came out of her bathroom, wrapped in her favourite dressing gown, fluffy slippers on her feet, and hair wrapped around rollers to make sure her colour potion could get the right amount of time to soak in.
Her copy of the Prophet was already on her kitchen table, and with a few waves of her wand, she had toast with honey, a steaming cup of freshly brewed tea, and an egg boiled just right ready to eat. She would have preferred a full English breakfast, but as she didn't have a house-elf, she would have to make it herself, and she certainly hadn't the patience for that.
Especially not while she was hungry.
Not really interested in anything else, Rita opened the twine holding the Prophet rolled up, and placed the now opened newspaper next to her plate, sipping on her tea. Just as was proper, her article occupied the whole front page, with only a few smaller notices below the fold.
To make sure that none of the idiots working the presses had mangled any of her writing, Rita started to read her own article detailing the upcoming trial of the Howler Terrorist Amos Diggory.
She had worked hard on this one. As Mrs. Diggory had been too shielded by her family, Rita hadn't managed to get an official interview with her. And it would have been so wonderful to get something from the woman who should have noticed something was wrong! But spying in her animagus form hadn't revealed much that would have been usable. In fact, she had only learned that Mrs. Diggory had fallen into a deep depression, barely taking part in daily activities at her brother's house.
With nothing usable from that side, Rita had moved on to speak with the people who had worked with Amos Diggory at the Ministry, and old schoolmates. Those had been better resources to cite, because they all had been eager to bring up the questionable things Amos had done and said over the years. It was always so easy to write something worthy of the front page when people were trying to distance themselves from former friends.
A good sob-story – like the one she had written last summer about Lord Slytherin – was a close second, but it always was more fun to expose the dirty deeds of esteemed figures of society.
And Amos Diggory had been that, respected, hardworking, and reliable. And because of that perceived image of the man, his fall into darkness was so interesting for everyone.
Rita would have to make sure that she would get one of the few press places during the trial. This was too good a scoop to let some lesser reporter cover it. And in the line of that work, she might get enough information to write a follow-up piece on story about the tragic upbringing Lord Slytherin. While she was pretty sure she would be better off in the long run painting him as a wizard trying his best, there was more to write there than had been done so far. Probably because everyone remembered how vicious He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had been in the past, and no one dared to take position for or against him in the press, as public perception on the man was so divided and hard to predict.
With the orphan among muggles background, the adoption of another orphan in that little boy – adopting the boy he had made into an orphan could go either way if one was skilled with words – and other efforts to repair all the damage done, Lord Slytherin had a positive angle to take in a story. But with all the murders, the blood prejudices, association with dark creatures people generally feared, and connection to Dark Magic, there was a lot of resentment still present in the knowledge and memories of the public.
It was like dancing on a volcano.
Humming happily to herself, Rita finished up her breakfast and went about getting ready for the day. She had some preparations to make.
AN: I hope I did the Zoo of London no disservice with my superficial portrayal. I only had information found on the web at hand, never have been there myself. Maybe I get to go sometime in the future.
And here after a long pause a new story recommendation: "Conditionally" by Lomonaaeren on both ffnet and AO3, a not your typical Severus is Harry's father story, completed.
Thanks to Jordre and Jake for helping to improve my spelling!
First published on the 16th of August 2019
Next chapter planned for 30th of August 2019