AN: I wish to give my heartfelt thanks to you who took the time to review my story. Lately, I've gotten more and more detailed reviews, with numerous reactions to what was happening as well as many conjectures and hopes for future chapters. It really helps improve the story to have other point of views than my betas' and mine.
I was also really touched to see that many of you truly appreciate my OCs. I personally often have troubles with OCs as in most stories, they are either too flat or take too much light away from the main canon characters. To know that you like my OCs is quite the victory for me :)
AN2: Thanks to my wonderful betas Miette and dstone12 for correcting this chapter.
AN3: The length of the chapters depends on the Muse, so don't expect chapters as long as this one every time ;)


Tonight, Malfoy Manor looked like it had come straight out of the pages of a fairytale. The entire manor was decorated with green and silver drapes on the walls, delicate snowflakes glistening from the ceilings. One huge fir tree decorated with candles and ice sculptures was taking centre stage in the living room, surrounded by a huge pile of gifts. At 17 o'clock sharp, hordes of tiny fairies had invaded the manor to play among the drapes, creating luminous and impressive ballets as they chased each other, emitting small balls of lights and sparks of different colours.
It was tradition on Yule Day.

Lucius, like most Wizards, did not celebrate Christmas. He celebrated Yule, the winter solstice, which actually happened on December 20th or 21st. Many Wizards actually celebrated Yule on the 25th, to coincide with the larger celebration of Christmas in the Muggle world. Yule was the day to reinforce wards and Bonds between family, through Magic and gifts as the latter were considered the physical expression of the Bonds between family and friends. Severus had learnt about the Yule tradition in Slytherin but had never partaken in such a ceremony.

Hogwarts only celebrated Christmas – a shame as Severus was convinced it would be a great opportunity to introduce Muggleborns to wizarding traditions.
Obviously, Mother had only celebrated Christmas since marrying a Magic-hating-Muggle. Before Severus' father's dismissal from the factory, it had been the only day that the man had been sure not to make any derogatory comment about his son – something about the day being a day of hope and charity. Once his father had really taken to drinking, hope and charity had not mattered anymore so Severus had not returned home and just stayed at Hogwarts over the holidays the first four years.
Anyway, Mother had never had much money to waste for this supposedly special day, and beside a filling meal, special biscuits and more or less new clothes, underpants or socks, there had never been much to it. Except for their last Christmas, when Mother had asked for his presence... And then left him instead of facing life without his father.
As holidays went, thus far, Yule looked to have Christmas beaten hands down as far as Severus was concerned.

Severus' Goblin family did not celebrate Yule but the beginning of the lunar year, which began on the second new moon after the winter solstice. These celebrations lasted two weeks and ended with the day of the lanterns, Yuánxiāo jié. Yuánxiāo jié was the equivalent of Yule as it was the day Bonds were celebrated. While Severus had been able to assist with the Yuánxiāo jié festivities, walking with Drunek's family in the decorated streets of Uusi while Kiveä and Soraa opened the way as the lantern bearers, he had not been privy to the private ceremony of Bonds celebrations.
But this year he had been invited as Kiveä's blood Brother, thought Severus excitedly. He was so lucky to have gained two families.

Severus smiled to himself as he watched Nymphéa ask her father for the umpteenth time if now was the time to open her presents, only to be distracted by Dhaal pushing her lightly to begin a merry chase around the room. Her mother was sitting with Narcissa and Madeline, all cooing over Draco. Lucius and Augustus were debating over which music to put on in the background, Kea resting on the grand piano beside the east window.
His grandparents had insisted on being present for his first Yule day. Madeline had told him it was not uncommon for them to spend Yule day at Malfoy Manor, usually once every two years when their son went to his wife's family. They understood that he wished to spend the day with Lucius instead of the rest of the Prince family whom he had never met – and had no wish to meet, what kind of brother had his uncle been when he had never tried to reach out to Mother? Severus would have fought for Lucius.
Severus had never met his uncle, even during a Death Eaters meeting, because a few months before his return, the man, his wife and children had relocated to China. He managed the Asian branch of the Prince's business, and a surge in opportunities had forced him to settle there – though privately, Severus thought it was his grandfather's way of putting his heir out of harm's way.

"Why are you scowling now?"

"I'm not scowling," replied Severus as Lucius put his hand on his shoulder.

His brother stared at him unimpressed.

"It's my first Yule," said Severus, hoping it would be enough to satisfy Lucius.

"I often wish Father's proposal had been accepted by the Ministry so Father could have become your Mentor earlier. And then I realise he might not have chosen you as I would not have met you yet so I would not have recommended you," replied Lucius softly.

"Is it your way of telling me to stop dwelling on the past and enjoy the present?" asked Severus, sarcastically.

"You said it, Brother," smirked Lucius, punching him lightly on the arm.

"I see I'm just in time," said Narcissa fondly. "No time for fighting, it's almost seven."

"We weren't fighting," assured Severus as she took his arm to lead him through the manor, the others following until they reached the enclave where they had held Draco's godparents ceremony, though this time his godson was remaining with Minky and Nymphéa during the ceremony.

It should have been chilly yet the place was pleasantly warm, various candles giving a subdued light which created a cosy and intimate atmosphere. No fairies were present. Four branches of mistletoe were resting on the altar, as well as three stacks of three smooth semi-precious stones each. Each stack was to be given to one of the guest households, and was composed of stones each engraved by one of the other households. Nymphéa had assured Severus that she and her father had taken great pain to each engraved one rune into each stone. Severus was curious to see if he would be able to Sense the difference between theirs and Andromeda's.
Most of the time, the runes engraved were chosen from traditional Yule protections. Shield against creatures, blessing for crop growth, fertility encouragements, … the possible Yule blessings were numerous. It was possible to choose your runes if you were well-versed enough in the field, however you had to be careful. The stones were meant for a household so your blessing had to be positive for each person of the Household, which could be tricky when runes possessed various possible meanings depending on their combinations and the intent pushed into them. It was the main reason most chose from the traditional protections. Severus had taken the time to create his rune combinations for each household. He wondered about the combinations his Yule stones would possess.

A circle had been drawn around the altar, with four lines going from the circle to the altar. At each intersection of the circle and a line, stones had been set into a circle big enough for at least one person to stand inside. Runes had been engraved on the stones as well as outside the circles. Severus had loved learning about this ritual and helping Lucius and Madeline with the runes.
Each stone circle was the same, one for each household.

Once they were all inside the enclave, Lucius took his wand out and drew an intricate pattern in front of the enclave entrance.

"I, Lucius Amadeus Malfoy, Head of the Malfoy House, welcome my family on this Yule day. Let us be protected as we recognise the links between each other and make them tangible through wards and oaths."

As the last words left his lips, Severus Sensed a Magic wall appear in place at the entrance, preventing any interference or attack.

"Tonight, as I recognise you as family, I offer you freely the protection which is mine to give and yours to accept," continued Lucius as he moved to face them all.

"Tonight, as I recognise you as family, I offer you freely the protection which is mine to give and yours to accept," answered Severus in chorus with the others, marvelling as he realised that all of them had spoken exactly at the same time.

"Let the Magic of Yule insure only protections will be bequeathed tonight," they intoned together, Magic crackling in the air in anticipation.

This final sentence allowed all the participants to ascertain the current Ritual would be used as it was intended to, as only some of the participants had prepared its elements.

Lucius took into his hands one stack of stones from the altar and walked to Madeline and Augustus, taking one arm each to guide them to one of the stone circles.

"Kin of my heart and blood, please accept this token of my love, support and protection."

Madeline accepted the stones in her hands and took one out of her pocket she handed to Lucius in exchange.

"Kin of my heart and blood, please accept this token of my love, benediction and protection."

Lucius put the gifted stone into his pocket then went back to the altar to repeat the process with Andromeda and Ted.
Severus was last. He had taken a long time to choose the right stone and Runes to give Lucius, to offer his brother the best possible protection against enemies. He hoped his effort would help mitigate both the Mark's influence on Lucius when he was home as well as the influence of the Horcrux which remained hidden in Malfoy Manor.

He smiled as his brother led him to his circle.
"Kin of my heart and Magic, please accept this token of my love, support and protection."

Severus accepted the four stones and handed Lucius a black tourmaline in exchange.
"Kin of my heart and Magic, please accept this token of my love, devotion and protection."

Lucius walked to Narcissa and led her to the last empty circle.
"Yule be my witness, I pronounce us family. To help, protect and love. To cherish and criticise. To nurture and to let go. Magic wills it."

Severus could not hold his gasp as Magic sang. It swung around him, swirling as it went through the various drawn runes, then rushing through his body and leaving him both light and heavy, invigorated and exhausted. For one everlasting second, he Sensed all his companions beside him, their Magic singing with his in unison, beating a steady rhythm.
A vivid flash of green exploded on the altar, blinding Severus. All went silent.

As Severus blinked, he realised he now held one branch of mistletoe. It hummed with Magic, in unison with the stones which weighed heavily in his pocket. He felt dazed.
He smiled as Dhaal Sensed him the impression of warmed cosiness and love surrounded by happiness and satisfaction. His Familiar clearly was as affected as him.

"Surprising the first time, isn't it?"

Severus nodded at his grandfather's amused tone.
"Not what I expected. In truth, I didn't know what to expect."

"But you're not disappointed," stated the older man.

Severus shook his head.
"I brought you a keeping box to preserve your stones and mistletoe until you can use them in Caspian Manor," added his grandfather as they made their way back to the living room.

Traditionally, the mistletoe was to be hung somewhere in your house until next Yule while the engraved stones from the Yule ritual were added to the house walls, either in an additional feature or to replace a worn out stone. Lucius had told Severus that the Yule stones were usually put around the windows and entrances of Malfoy Manor, though some of his ancestors had used them to create mosaics in the corridors. It depended on the number of stones you collected each year.

Those who possessed big families and numerous close friends usually performed several Yule celebrations and ended up with many stones. Lucius had explained that there was a period of three weeks which were acceptable to perform the Yule ceremonies, traditionally referred to as Yulmonth. His brother would perform the Yule ritual with the Heads of House of all his vassals, including several cousins far removed, a few days after Yule. Severus was relieved not to be linked to many people. The only persons missing were Jonathan and Evan, they had planned to see each other the day after for a brief ceremony and drinks.
Severus had chosen not to offer to Regulus to perform the ritual, and neither had the younger man asked him to. They were not close enough yet, and he remained a Black with a family far too disturbing for Severus to take this risk. To gift Regulus with his protection in a Yule ritual would inevitably bleed into the connections among those of the Black House, though in which way he did not care to find out today. The same did not apply to Andromeda who had been magically rejected from the Black House.
In Severus' case, Caspian Manor being under construction, he would have to wait to add the stones and mistletoe to his house, hence the keeping box.

"Thank you Augustus. With everything going on, I completely forgot to have one ready," answered Severus gratefully.

"Oh yes, I heard you were going to teach at Hogwarts Severus," said Andromeda. "I didn't peg you for the type…"

"He's only there for Professor McGonagall's knowledge," teased Narcissa.

"True," nodded Severus. "I hope I won't mess it up for the students and manage to answer all their questions."

"I'd be more afraid of you losing patience with them than not managing to teach them. They are only first and second years," answered Lucius pointedly.

"And I only have to teach once a week, so my patience should suffice," retorted Severus. He could be patient for a day, especially with Transfiguration. Transfiguration was complex. Unless his students did not take him seriously. Or spoke between themselves during the class. Or did not do their homework. Or…

"Hush you, this is Yule! We are supposed to be relaxing and having fun opening presents! You are a terrible host, husband!" exclaimed Narcissa. "Come Severus, I know Nymphéa is waiting impatiently with Dhaal to open her presents and if I know your Familiar by now, mischief is on its way."

Severus gratefully allowed himself to be pulled out of his depressing thoughts and led toward the tree. The pile of gifts underneath was impressive, and they were only from the persons present. He shook his head to himself as Dhaal hopped from present to present on Nymphéa's command to painstakingly decipher the recipient of each parcel.
He wondered if his Familiar would ever get tired of playing with children. This was one trait they definitely did not share.

"She doesn't have the authorization to touch the presents until we begin opening them," confided Ted with a smile. "She found another way to satisfy her curiosity."

"She's clever," said Severus as she asked Dhaal to try to push one gift to see if it was heavy or not. "I trust the guessing game is as satisfying as the presents."

"Indeed," agreed Ted. "She takes after me in that aspect. Andromeda just tears out the wrapping paper."

"Really?"

Surprising for a Slytherin.

"She has learnt to wait but deep down, my wife has no patience," confided Ted amused.

"As long as I know when to wait, it's not a problem," huffed Andromeda as she joined them.

"Of course, Dear," answered Ted as he put his arm around her waist affectionately.

Severus was always amazed to witness the proof that a Muggle and a Pureblood could be a happy couple. Narcissa was taking a risk inviting her disowned sister and muggle husband behind her family's back. They had taken every precaution, yet Severus wondered how the Blacks would react if they discovered it. Tempers were running high as the elections approached.

"I know we're not supposed to dwell on grim thoughts today," began Severus, "however with the way things are progressing and the elections approaching… Andromeda, have you taken all the precautions to protect your family and yourself?"

He almost winced as the playful light in her gaze turned cold and calculating. At this moment, she could have been Bellatrix's twin.
She turned to her husband, as if they were arguing with each other without uttering a word.

Finally, she turned back to answer him
"There is only so much I can do without the backing of a House's Magic."

It was brutally honest.

"Gringotts or private Wards-maker?" countered Severus.

"I sadly do not have the means to afford them," answered Andromeda. "You only realise how important money is when you need it. I don't regret leaving, and we are well enough by most standards but…"

Not as well-off as a Black.

"Have you thought of finding a new House?"

Andromeda laughed unexpectedly.
"Of course I did! I made discreet inquiries but none would have me. At least none I could live with."
She shook her head.
"Even other Pureblood Houses think twice before defying the Blacks, no matter their opinion on my family."

"The Potters adopted Sirius Black," remarked Severus.

"He was a minor. The backlash of losing the family Magic, especially as an heir… It was criminal. I cannot imagine…" said Andromeda sadly.

"You could create your own House," suggested Severus.

This time, both Ted and Andromeda laughed.

"Ted actually proposed the same thing when he learnt you had created House Caspian. I had to explain to him all the reasons why I wasn't powerful enough to do so. What you achieved is really extraordinary Severus."

"I wouldn't have tried if not for Augustus," protested Severus. "You only need to believe in yourself more."

Andromeda shook her head.
"It's not always enough. I might manage with the help of a sponsor House. But I don't even want to become a Head of House."

Severus had not wanted to either. Except he wanted to be responsible for his choices.

"Would you offer us a place in your House?"

Severus looked at Andromeda in shock, unable to hide his surprise.

"Seems I was right, Dear. He had not thought of this," said Ted with a light smile.

"I… I didn't think anyone would wish to … I mean…."

"Well, think about it would you?" asked Andromeda. "Now, enough serious talk. My daughter will explode if she doesn't get her hand on a present soon, and I believe my little sister is displeased with our serious faces."

Madeline seemed to be the only thing preventing Narcissa from charging over to chastise them for not keeping to the carefully designed schedule, Lucius and Augustus safely standing beside Nymphéa as she looked impatiently towards her parents.
Severus spied Kea and Dhaal running through the gifts and shook his head to himself. Indeed, it was time to open the presents. Andromeda's baffling request could wait.

It was early morning when Severus made it back to his room, head full of the echoes of laughter and mind buzzing pleasantly with fatigue.
To his surprise, a huge box with a red bow was set on his bed. As Severus came closer to examine the box, he spotted a letter above it.

Dear Brother,

After several years of waiting, I believe today is finally the right time to give you what is yours. In this box, you will find everything Father bequeathed you. A last gift from him on your first Yule day with us. It just seemed fitting. He would be so proud of your accomplishments.

I am always so grateful that I decided to help you with Transfiguration that evening.

Love,

Lucius

Severus blinked, forcing back the tears at the corners of his eyes. He had been convinced that Abraxas' last letter to him had been enough. Yet, to his surprise, knowing that his Mentor had left him some of his possessions felt like definitely being named as his family.

He put Lucius' letter on his bed and carefully opened the box. He could not help the smile that came on his lips as he uncovered several rare and old books on Potions and Magic of the mind. He also found one book on Heads of House's duties that made him wonder how long his mentor and his grandfather had plotted the creation of his own House. The books were wonderful gifts but they did not hold a candle to the framed photograph of Abraxas, Lucius and himself taken on the evening of his NEWTs celebration. He watched with fondness and a bit of heartache as the three of them laughed together. He had no idea who had taken the picture but he was grateful for it. Behind the photograph, Abraxas had inscribed four simple words that brought tears to Severus' eyes:

My sons and I

Severus put the photograph on his bedside table, angling it so he could see it from most of the room. He fell asleep with a smile on his lips.
He slept soundly until nine, and opened his eyes to a pile of presents from Jonathan, Evan, Regulus, Lily, Petunia and, to his surprise, Lord Voldemort.

Curious, Severus checked the Lord's gift with Sensing. Malfoy Manor's wards were ancient and strong, but Severus knew how gifted and experienced the Lord was. While Severus was convinced the man wished him no harm, his wrongness might put ideas in his head and who was to say it was really from him.
His Sensing did not reveal any tricks or wrongful intentions, so Severus opened his gift with great excitement. He was struck speechless when he discovered a magnificent book, titled The Usefulness of Snakes in the Art of Potion Making by Salazar Slytherin, translated from Parseltongue by Lord Voldemort.

Despite the fact that Lord Voldemort had revealed that he was a Parseltongue during his libel suit against the Daily Prophet several years ago, the man did not flaunt his ability. According to Evan, it was a recurring source of disappointment for Bellatrix. The gift felt even more precious for it.

Opening it with reverence, Severus read the note written on its front page:

To Severus, with my deepest admiration and affection.
May we find the time to explore Magic together.
Marvolo

Severus smiled at the reminder of their talk in Nather Manor about exploring Magic together after the election. Once the Horcruxes were dealt with.
Turning the book's pages, Severus leafed through its contents with increasing awe. Slytherin seemed to have used a similar method to Severus' to test various parts from many different kinds of snakes and determine their role and influence in potions. It was the first time in Severus' life that he found another Wizard using a defined method to explore potions possibilities.

Refraining from his impulse to peruse the book this instant, Severus put it back on his desk, focusing instead on the question that truly mattered. Why had Marvolo gifted him this book, when he had never given Severus a present before? It was not a simple gift, easily found and bought. It was a book Marvolo had no doubt found thanks to his belonging to Sytherin's line, and that he had taken the time to translate for Severus. It was the symbol of a relationship far more important than between mere members of the Death Eaters. What was Marvolo's aim with this book? The hand of friendship? Recognition of his role as counterbalance to the Blacks et al?

After all, Severus' own gift was not as straightforward as it looked.

There had been no doubt in Severus' mind that he needed to give Lord Voldemort a gift this Yule, because he wanted to and because he needed to show the Lord his loyalty despite not bearing the Mark. After many hesitations, Severus had finally decided to offer Lord Voldemort a French treatise about inside-outside Magic, banned in Britain except for those who had obtained the Ministry's authorisation to own it. It was easy to buy it in France.
Severus had first read it in Uusi when researching information on Familiars during his Apprenticeship. The book began with an introduction on inside-outside magic and the danger of using only one or the other, and in some cases of using both. It then focused on specific subjects related to inside-outside Magic.
One chapter was on Familiars and was the official reason given by Severus to Marvolo for the gift. The author of the book did not describe the Ritual but listed all the efficient means to test the bond between a Wizard and his wand. It also focused on the importance of using only inside magic during the ritual, especially when choosing the materials to implement it.
The true reason Severus had gifted this book to Marvolo was the chapter on Horcruxes and Khorlos, though the author never used those terms. The author explained that some Wizards had developed the theory that if you could cut your core in two, it would increase your magical power as your core would grow in order to try to reunite the two parts. He then argued against this theory, explaining that the impression of the core gaining more power was false. The core did try to reunite both parts and as such, had to increase the amount of magic present in itself to grow and link them. But to do so, it ended up using outside Magic and twisting itself.
Severus knew that Marvolo was as curious as himself, and hoped that he would read the entire book. He did not expect Marvolo to immediately realise the danger his Horcruxes posed and to reunite with them — in fact, he expected him not to as it could be dangerous if he tried to reunite in the wrong order— but he hoped it would open him to the idea of reunification.

It was a long shot but Severus hoped it would work.
It did not help him understand what Marvolo hoped to convey to Severus with his own present.
Nodding pensively, Severus resolved to ask his co-conspirators if they had received a gift from Lord Voldemort as well.

Severus opened Lily's and Petunia's gift next. The two women had included letters with their gifts as well as thanks for their own presents which they had opened the previous evening.

Dear Severus,

I wish you a happy Christmas. Thank you so much for the exotic outfit, it looks even better than it did in your catalogue.

Severus smiled, glad to have made her happy. He had hesitated a long time before deciding to offer both Petunia and Lily clothes Bǎo style made of goblin silk. He had sent them a catalogue from which they had chosen the model they wanted, Himself had chosen the silks colour and pattern. Lily had set her heart on a beautiful dress which would not have been out of place on Lady Greengrass or Lady Black, while Petunia had opted for the feminine equivalent of Severus' own pants and shirts.

I think Lily is jealous. She said that with the pants and my short hair, I felt like a different person. What do you think? (I took the liberty of joining a photograph with my letter).

He had not seen Lily's face since Hogwarts. His friends had not sent him the newspapers describing her wedding to Potter. He had not asked for it either. He had been so busy with his apprenticeship, and then with the Horcruxes and everything else, that he had not even thought about it.
How much had she changed in nearly five years? He had certainly changed a lot, from the various reactions of others when he had first come back. Would he get the same shock? Would his anger or fondness for her be rekindled only by seeing her smile? It seemed ridiculous, and yet… He could not help but feel apprehensive as he reached for the photograph.

Petunia and Lily held each other by the waist, smiling at the camera. Lily's face was the same. A bit more mature. Less rounded, but with the same vibrant green eyes. She was no longer a girl. The dress she wore highlighted the fact that she was now Lady Potter. She was as pretty as ever. Severus waited for a stab of pain or regret that did not come. Instead, he felt his gaze drawn to Petunia.
He barely recognised her, could hardly reconcile the last time he had seen her, when she had come to him for help, and this picture. She was giving off a feeling of self-assurance and determination, which he felt was reinforced by the now short hair that framed her lean face as well as the Bǎo outfit. Her smile was small but heartfelt. Her blue eyes pierced through the picture. Petunia was radiant. And... modern compared to Lily. Was Lily regretting becoming a wife and mother so early in her life?

Taking his gaze away from the picture, Severus turned back to Petunia's letter.

I decided on a gift as practical as yours. Please find five doses of Muggle sedatives adapted for Wizards. As you may imagine, after the raid, I did not fancy being helpless again. After a few adjustments and tests on Sirius (he did not volunteer but he was the perfect guinea pig, tactless as he is), I can assure you each of those doses will put to sleep any Wizard for one hour. If you are curious, it represents one and a half dose for Muggles.

Once more she amazed him. Her gift was perfect. It might even be useful for the reunification of Lord Voldemort's Horcruxes, as a last resort.

I hope you are spending the day with family and friends, and wish you all the best,

Petunia.

To think he had once considered her a despicable being. They had both grown much.

Lily's gift almost was the wizarding equivalent of Petunia's, a book on sleeping charms. They might prove useful too. Her letter thanked Severus for her dress but did not mention her sister's outfit.

Severus spent the rest of the Yule holidays with Lucius, Narcissa and Draco, with another visit from the Tonks family. He also went out for drinks with Jonathan and Evan twice. He was impatient to be able to inhabit his own house and add his Yule stones to it. He would need to speak with Blake to decide how to better include them to the wall and to anticipate for next years' Yule.

Two days before his first day of teaching at Hogwarts — Severus was carefully avoiding thinking about it, to Dhaal's great amusement — he went to Prince Manor for a Horcrux meeting. They had not met for ten days, their longest break since they had undertaken this venture, so they took the time to exchange gossip and rumours before tackling their task.

"Speaking of favouritism, do you know if Lord Voldemort offered gifts to every Death Eater or only to some of them?" asked Severus after Regulus had complained about Bellatrix preening as she ranted about being Lord Voldemort's closest adviser during the Blacks Yule dinner.

"Bellatrix did," answered Regulus with a disgusted frown. "So did Rodolphus and Father, though their gifts were completely different from hers. They each got an expensive bottle of their favourite aperitif while she received a golden cuff encrusted with emeralds. Apparently, it's got shielding properties to protect you from most fire spells. As you may imagine, she was delighted and proud as a peacock to wear the proof of her favourite status. She was looking forward to taunting you and Mulciber."

"Unless you got an even better gift to taunt her with?" added Jonathan, looking hopefully at Severus.

"I certainly think so, but she may not agree with me," answered Severus. "I largely prefer a book written by Slytherin and translated by Lord Voldemort about snakes and potions to any item of jewellery, especially one that seems quite imposing."

"A book from Salazar himself?! Translated from Parseltongue?! I think it trumps the piece of jewellery by far!" exclaimed Jonathan.

"I agree, you know how Bellatrix is obsessed with his ability to speak to snakes!" added Regulus gleefully. "You must let them know about it. It will definitely reinforce your favourite status. We already know you are, Lord Voldemort listened to you about decreasing the frequency of the raids."

"But he presented it as his idea," reminded Augustus.

"Yes, and it did not please Bellatrix, but Father and Mother supported the idea, which was quite a surprise for me," admitted Regulus.

"I, for one, am glad that Lord Voldemort followed Severus' advice. The risks of the raids degenerating was increasing the closer the election got. It was a sound strategy to adopt," stated Augustus.

He sighed.
"When we launched plan Slytherin, Lord Voldemort's voice was not supposed to become more important than ours. He was supposed to be the mediator, yes, but never the sole decision-maker. It's not the case yet, but I'm worried that Bellatrix's behaviour may be indicative of what is to come if we fail."

Heavy silence followed his words. Severus was determined not to fail if only not to suffer Bellatrix's jealousy and ploys to remain the favourite.

"I can tell you did not get a big piece of jewellery for Yule," teased Regulus, pushing away the dark mood hanging over them.

"Yes, what did Lord Voldemort get you?" asked Jonathan curiously.

"I fear I only got a very old and very tasty bottle of calva," answered the older man with a dry smile.

"You still got something," pouted Jonathan. "Regulus and I got nothing. Evan didn't either, what do you think it means?"

"It means we are below Lord Voldemort's attention, which is perfect as far as I'm concerned," said Regulus wryly.

"This is the safest place for you," agreed Augustus, "though in my case, it's been a tradition since the beginning of plan Slytherin. Speaking of, shouldn't we get to work?" he added pointedly.

"You're right," nodded Jonathan. "How do we begin?"

"We need a Horcrux to test my containing boxes," announced Severus proudly.

"You've finished them already?" asked Regulus.

Severus nodded.
"Yes, as I told you, it was not as complicated as it sounds. And Augustus managed to procure all the materials I needed quickly."

"Of course," nodded Jonathan even as he exchanged knowing glances with Regulus.

"Well, why not use the one in the shack?" proposed the younger man.

"We have not figured out the counter-curse yet," reminded Augustus. "Unless one of you has new information on it?"

"As a matter of fact, I do," answered Jonathan to Severus' surprise. "Lord Voldemort spoke of his travels to study Magic several times, and he seems to have spent a long time in Eastern Europe. Part of Mother's family possesses Slav's roots so I asked around, carefully," explained Jonathan, stressing out the last word.

Severus sometimes forgot that all pureblood families possessed treasures of history and knowledge, even those who did not belong to the most ancient twenty-eight.

"I believe this is what they call the sárkány curse. It was created to reproduce a Hungarian Horntail's attack. First fire to burn away magical resistance then poison to destroy the flesh."

"It's coherent with what I Sensed from the curse," agreed Severus. "Did you find a counter-curse too?"

"Yes. It requires two persons working together as well as a vial of Hungarian horntail antivenom," answered Jonathan.

"Is there a test we can perform to be certain this is the right curse?" asked Augustus.

"No, but the counter-curse should not trigger the curse if it's not the right one. I brought copies of the information on the curse," said Jonathan as he gave them each a sheet of parchment.

Severus immediately began reading. To study the mechanism of such complex curses was always fascinating.
The counter-curse was simple enough if the proper precautions were respected. One person was to continually chant a fire diverting spell while the second poured the antivenom on the cursed object. This would weaken the curse enough to allow the second person to use Magic to break the intent of the curse with the right spell. The fact the curse was linked to the Horcrux would complicate matters only in the sense that the last spell had to be cast precisely on the curse but not on the Horcrux. Severus was confident he could do it.

Augustus seemed to share his confidence.
"Alright, I think we could use this Horcrux as a test for the box. I would recommend lifting the curse in the shack as it's quite deserted."

"When should we do this?" asked Regulus.

"When is the next time we all have an afternoon free?" replied Augustus.

The next time turned out to be in ten days from now. They decided Severus and Augustus would be the ones to lift the curse while Regulus would come to watch over them in case something went astray. Jonathan was to remain at Prince Manor, ready to help if he received Regulus' Patronus.

"We will practice sending messages through Patronus once we have finished reviewing our to-do list," said Augustus firmly.

None of them protested. Their previous experiences had proven they needed to be prepared.
Severus looked back at the list written on the board in front of them as Regulus updated it with their latest discoveries. It had already evolved a lot since they had first established it.

Horcruxes:

1: Determine the number of Horcruxes = 4
Risk of a new one being created any day? = unknown, check regularly if a fifth Horcrux exists
Is there a limit to the number of Horcruxes one can create?= 7 in theory

2: Find the Horcruxes:
Shack in little Hangleton
Sea Cave
Malfoy Manor
Hogwarts

3: Retrieve the Horcruxes
How: Will Lord Voldemort know when we take them? = no according to all theories found.
What kind of protection to expect? = see details of each Horcrux
Will the Horcruxes affect the ones who retrieve it? = yes, important to use both Occlumency and Patronus, especially for Mark bearers
Is it dangerous to have all the Horcruxes regrouped together before the reunification? = yes, must use separate containing boxes for each Horcrux, should cut them off from Magic so impossible to influence each other or regroup together.

Shack Horcrux (Ring):
Identify the curse on the ring = sárkány curse
How to lift the curse = sárkány counter-curse
Identify the other power boosting the Horcrux and how to prevent this other power from boosting the Horcrux

"Did you make any headway on what could have boosted the ring Horcrux's power?" asked Jonathan. "I admit it had slipped my mind."

"Same for me," admitted Severus.

He had not spent even one second researching it. He immediately went through everything they knew about it, trying to reason whether or not they should go on with their plan.

"Me too," said Regulus darkly.

"I had forgotten about this too, in our euphoria," admitted Augustus wryly. "Lucky we are organised."

"I don't think we should test the box on the ring," said Jonathan. "If this power interferes with the counter-curse…"

"It only helped the Horcrux pry it's way into your mind," countered Severus. "If Augustus and I are the ones to go as we had planned, without a Mark to use as leverage, it should not matter. I think I would have Sensed something if it was more active than this."

"Still, it couldn't hurt to take the time to study it before rushing into this," replied Jonathan.

"We could go on with the plan but take the time to study the ring before doing the counter-curse. If we spot anything we don't like, we won't have to go through with it," proposed Regulus.

"What do you think, Augustus?" asked Jonathan, clearly appealing to their elder to side with him.

"Regulus' proposal is sound, but let's review the rest of the Horcruxes to see if another one might be easier to retrieve and test," answered Severus' grandfather firmly.

Once more, Severus admired how the man managed to pacify everyone with only a few words.

He focused his attention back on the list to the next Horcrux. The main difficulty to retrieving the Locket was the green potion which filled the basin containing the Horcrux.
Despite their effort, they had been unable to identify the potion. As Jonathan had reminded them previously, Lord Voldemort had travelled in many countries to learn about Magic. This potion looked to be an obscure one unknown in Britain and without any allusion to it to be found in their various libraries. Severus had never been more grateful to have learnt potion making from scratch instead of following the recipes from the beginning. It was a tremendous advantage as he was used to testing and analysing ingredients and potions. He had tackled this potion with method, tests and trials.
He had poured one of the vials into a small cauldron and made his first surprising discovery: No matter how much potion he poured into his cauldron, the vial remained full. It was only one of the potion's peculiarities. No organic material could be put into the potion. Severus never managed to put his hand or finger in it, and neither could he prod it with a wooden spoon whereas a metal road easily pierced its surface. He had tried to vanish, part, or siphon away the potion, to no avail. Transfiguration and Charms did not affect it, which would have made it a very interesting puzzle to Severus if it had not been an obstacle on their road to make Voldemort whole. The only way to move the potion was to put it into a recipient vessel, and even then, if you tried to transfer the potion from one to another vessel, its level into its first recipient would remain constant. It seemed that the only way to empty the initial recipient was to drink the potion as Kreacher had been ordered to by Lord Voldemort, which was definitely not a good idea.
Having determined this, Severus had focused on affecting the potion by adding ingredients to it in hope of changing its properties. It was a delicate process. He could not directly put the organic ingredients into it, so he had had to encapsulate them into glass, put them into the potion then break the glass case so the ingredient could dissolve into the potion.
Once Severus had managed to render the potion neutral, meaning turning it into a liquid with properties equivalent to water, he had been faced with another problem. He had needed to heat the potion to be able to transform it, as well as several days of careful brewing which could not be recreated in the cave. Severus had been almost defeated when reading his great-grandfather's journals gave him an idea. The man had made several experiments in which one small drop of potion affected an entire cauldron of another potion. Severus had thus turned his research to creating a potion which would act as a catalyst to neutralize Lord Voldemort's potion. It had been easier as he had already identified the necessary ingredients to do so. Then he had encapsulated the neutralising potion inside a small glass ball and put it into a vial of Lord Voldemort's potion.

It had worked like a charm.

As he checked each point of the list concerning the Locket, Severus was glad to see they were close to being able to retrieve it.

Cave Horcrux (Locket):
Identify the potion inside the basin = unknown
Identify its properties = done, see Severus analysis
Identify a mean to empty the basin without drinking it = use Severus' neutralising potion + special tongs.
Learn how to "fly" = to practice with Augustus
Learn an alternative to the Fiendfyre spell in case Inferi awaken when the Horcrux is taken away or the basin emptied and they are so numerous Fiendfyre would exhaust our core = Incendio not powerful enough to destroy the inferi but should push them back. Can also use MonstruoFuego which recreates the fire of the dragon's species called Spanish Long-snout.

"We've come a long way on this one," said Regulus, echoing Severus' thoughts.

Jonathan nodded.
"I think we should retrieve it soon, in case we have troubles with the potion."

"You'd rather we begin with this one," stated Severus.

"Yes. I'm still uncomfortable with the unknown power in the ring. I think we should research it more before trying anything," admitted Jonathan.

"Well. If Regulus and Severus are keen to practice flying before next week, we could certainly do so," answered Augustus thoughtfully. "Jonathan is right, we should be more careful and go back to study the ring once more before retrieving it."

"Why not retrieve it but lift the curse later?" asked Regulus.

"I would rather not have a Horcrux inside my wards unless they are safely sealed inside a containing box," replied Augustus.

Severus agreed with his grandfather. To lift the curse in Prince Manor would put the Horcrux in contact with its Magic. Who knew how the Horcruxes could affect the wards and Magic flows around them when they were not contained?

Regulus' next words reflected the same line of thoughts.
"Have we made progress on the Horcrux at Lucius'? I agree with you Augustus, and I can't help but feel it should not remain inside Malfoy Manor for much longer."

Unfortunately, they had made no progress on this point of the list.

Malfoy Manor Horcrux (?):
Find a way to access the Malfoy safe room without arousing suspicions
Find out the protections on the Horcrux

"From what I have observed, Lucius checks on it every few days. To be safe, we can only retrieve it when we are ready for the reunification," answered Severus.

"Have you found a way to enter the room?"

Severus grimaced.
"Not yet. You?"

They all shook their heads.

Regulus looked at them hesitantly before speaking.
"I think we should talk to Cista. It's a threat to her family, she would help."

"It's too dangerous," protested Severus. "And you can't ask her to go behind her husband's back."

It was already hard enough for him to keep so many secrets from Lucius. And he would not endanger Draco.

"And the less people know about a secret, the less chances we have to be discovered," added Jonathan.

Regulus clearly disagreed but did not speak up. Severus turned to his grandfather inquiringly.

"I believe we may not have the choice. It may come to asking either Lucius or Narcissa, and Narcissa does not bear the Mark," said Augustus with a sigh. "Let me think about it."

The rest of the list had not evolved much.

Hogwarts Horcrux (?):
?

4: Unite Lord Voldemort with his Horcruxes
How: Possible to do it without him realizing? Can it work if he's unconscious?
Potion?
Spell?
Runes?
Ritual?
Muggle sedatives?
Is there an order to respect?= yes, first one created first. How to determine which it is?
Is there a particular place recommended for the reunification (or one to avoid?) like points of magical confluences or voids? = yes, avoid vortex
Important to help the Horcruxes ease back to the main core, in which manner can it be done?

5: Make Lord Voldemort give back unpaid sacrifices to Magic without being identified. Determine if Magic requires more than the initial sacrifices' prices.
How:?
Can it work if unconscious?
External source of Magic required to make the payment happen?
Possibility to evaluate what payment is needed ? Can payment be made in multiple steps?
How to give payment without using the Dark Arts?

"We still have a major hole in our plan," commented Jonathan. "How to make Lord Voldemort pay his debt to Magic."

Severus had not had much time to work on this point. He felt a sudden bout of despair at the realisation that despite their best efforts, there might not be enough time for their plan to succeed without involving his clan and endangering his wizard family.

"I may have found something," said Regulus hesitantly. "The Champion of Magic ritual."

"I have never heard of this ritual," said Augustus intrigued.

"Neither have I," concurred Jonathan.

Severus only shook his head, unable to speak as hope rose inside his chest.

"The parchments were in my home's special library," explained Regulus. "I discovered this library last week. It can only be accessed by a true Black, meaning one who follows the House's motto."

"You've always followed the Blacks' motto, what changed?"asked Jonathan perplexed.

From his discussions with Regulus, Severus suspected that bearing the Dark Lord's Mark which tainted Regulus meant he was not conforming to his House's motto. Which meant Regulus had managed to block the Mark's taint.

"It began when Mother invited our cousins for dinner, meaning the Lestrange and the Malfoy. I don't remember what we were discussing but one moment, I realised my Mark was influencing me. It almost was like in a meeting. While I realised I was being influenced, I was unable to completely counter it with Occlumency. I remembered how Jonathan and Severus had used their Patronus to counter the Mark's influence, especially how Jonathan's had circled his arm. I could not cast my Patronus at dinner without being obvious but I theorised that with practice, I might be able to keep it centred on my Mark and so close to my arm as being invisible."

It was clever. The only weakness was if you could Sense the Patronus' actions or see it. Regulus's Patronus was a big dog, reminiscent of the Grim tale's description except for its colour that was as bright as any Patronus'. Keeping it small was not instinctive.

"After dinner, I practised and practised. It took me two days to keep it small and close enough to my arm it couldn't be seen, another two to manage it wandlessly. I was practising keeping my Patronus on at all time, even when walking or speaking, when I saw the door next to the usual library."

"You're saying the Mark prevented you from being a true Black because of its taint which you blocked by using your Patronus. But then, why could you not see it before being marked?" insisted Jonathan puzzled.

"Regulus was not of age," answered Augustus.

"Exactly. I was sworn into the House on my birthday but I went back to Hogwarts the morning after," confirmed Regulus. "Then I was marked the evening I came back from graduation."

Jonathan smiled, suddenly excited.
"You've found the way to block the Mark. It's wonderful!"

"Yes but it only works on yourself. You have to want to block the Mark to learn how to," answered Regulus, smiling despite his more sedated words.

"If we cast a Patronus on Evan, he would realise he needs to learn!" countered Jonathan.

"Are you sure?" asked Severus. "From what you both told us, you realised you were influenced because you made decisions contrary to your belief. You would need to cast your Patronus when Evan is experiencing an emotion he cannot attribute to himself or the group factor."

"Which can only happen in a meeting," concluded Jonathan with a defeated sigh.

"And we do not even know if someone else's Patronus would be enough to block the Mark,"added Severus.

"However it is a good idea to practice for yourself Jonathan. Severus and I will do so too, it always pays to be prepared," stated Augustus firmly.

"Now if we go back to the original point of the discussion. Regulus, can you tell us more about this Champion ritual please?"

"The Championship of Magic ritual is an agreement between Magic and its champion," explained Regulus. "Each has a goal they need the other's help to accomplish. They cannot be released from the agreement until each goal is reached unless one of the cancellation clauses comes into play. If Magic feels the Champion is taking too long to complete his part of the agreement or is not actively trying to, it can end the agreement and take back what it gave."

"It sounds worse than making a contract with Goblins," joked Jonathan.

"Indeed. Do you have any examples of Champions of Magic, Regulus?" asked Augustus.

"Merlin is the most famous Champion of Magic," answered Regulus. "According to what I read, though those are really old parchments so we might want to take this with a grain of salt, Merlin asked for the power to protect muggle future King Arthur from all magic creatures as well as any magical attack. In exchange, he agreed to look for the Holy Grail. The scrolls are not clear on what it truly was, but they agree that it was something to help Magic spread over the world."

"I thought it was supposed to be the fountain of youth, like a philosopher stone or something," said Jonathan surprised.

"If we look at it from the perspective of Muggles, it could be," answered Severus thoughtfully. "We know Wizards have a longer lifespan than Muggles, and it was even more true in Merlin's time. Something that would make Muggles magical should increase their lifespan."

"I see," agreed Jonathan. "As all stories must be embellished, increase in lifespan becomes eternity."

"Exactly. And the more numerous Wizards exist, the more they spread Magic as their children are almost guaranteed to be Wizards too," concluded Severus.

"But in the end, Morgana imprisoned Merlin," stated Augustus. "Story-tellers say she won through seduction and treachery, but if he was Magic's champion…"

"He probably was not anymore," explained Regulus. "It seems that the more you ask from Magic, the more it takes from you. And Merlin and the Knights never found the Grail, so he did not hold up his end of the bargain. Thus, Magic took back what she had given him."

"Sounds dangerous, I don't see many people wanting to become Magic's champion," said Jonathan with a shiver.

Regulus rolled his eyes.
"Of course, how would you expect to gain such great power otherwise? That's the reason why usually, only members of the royal family will use this ritual, and only for very precise and short term goals in order to keep Magic's price low. You must also renounce all House and family ties for the duration of the Championship."

"Are you sure we want to give Lord Voldemort access to this ritual?" asked Jonathan, concerned. "It's an awful lot of power, and I don't see how it makes him pay back Magic."

"Actually, he would have to," answered Regulus with a triumphant smile. "The parchment specifies that before attempting the ritual, you must be whole and free of any debt to Magic on pain of injury or even death as well as certain failure of the ritual. It provides steps to insure you fit Magic's requirements. Of course, you can die during the process."

Severus nodded slowly.
"I can see why asking something of Magic while still owing it sacrifices would guarantee its refusal. It's actually a perfect solution!"

"Don't get too excited just now," warned Augustus. "Lord Voldemort will be wary of the price Magic will require from him, especially with the threat he believes to be under because of the Prophecy. I don't think he would limit himself with winning the elections. And it also means he could use this ritual later for a goal unknown to us."

"The ritual cannot be used more than once by the same person," countered Regulus. "At least, that's what the parchment says."

"I hope it's true," replied Augustus. "We should try to find other sources to confirm it. Still, to get Lord Voldemort to agree to abandon his Horcruxes and pay back Magic so he can attempt this ritual… We will need to work seriously on how to approach him with our proposal."

"Especially as he's paranoiac right now," agreed Severus.

Yet he was excited. This was a chance to succeed.

"Could we use the Marks to make him trust us?" asked Jonathan. "Severus said he was influencing our moods, but it seems the reverse could be true."

"It might work. But if he realises we're trying to influence him, he will never listen to us," answered Regulus.

"And he might influence you then," added Severus.

"I still think we should explore this possibility. It does not hurt to have more than one plan," said Augustus firmly.

"I'll add it to the list," stated Jonathan after a long silence. "As you say, it cannot hurt to look into it."

"Alright," agreed Regulus. "This brings us to the Marks."

Dark Mark:
1) Find a way to prevent Lord Voldemort from influencing feelings and decision through the Marks
(even Evan and Lucius, so must be an object?)
2) How reunification may affect the Marks?
3) Find how to completely block the Marks during the reunification

"We now know Patronus are effective against the Marks," said Severus. "However, I don't know if using our Patronuses on Lord Voldemort would be enough to block the connection in a case so extreme as paying Magic back."

"And even if Lord Voldemort agreed to use his own, I doubt he would be able to keep it active through all the sacrifices," added Regulus.

"Have you truly found no other way to block the Marks, Severus?" asked Jonathan.

"I have ideas, but nothing I know that will work without doing tests," answered Severus, well aware it sounded far more optimistic than his current research results actually were.

"Tests we cannot do because it could warn Lord Voldemort before we are ready," completed Regulus with a grimace.

"I think Severus should prepare to test all his ideas, so that when we are ready, we can do a test session," said Jonathan.

"I'd like to discuss your ideas, Severus," stated Augustus. "Talking about it may help you to refine them."

"And don't hesitate to tell us if you need to study our Marks again," added Jonathan.

"I will. I'll keep working on it," assured Severus, though he feared time was against them. Days seemed to get shorter as their deadline came closer.

The end of the list had been expanded following Severus' visit to Wirkrund. Many unanswered questions remained.

Miscellaneous:

What happens if a Horcrux is destroyed? = in theory, Lord Voldemort will feel weak for a few days until his core is replenished. Does not take into account a twisted core, the Marks and the three other Horcruxes. Does a twisted core replenish the same as a sane one or does it get even more twisted in the process? Destruction of the 4 Horcruxes at the same time could be as dangerous as an over exhausted core.

What happens if someone murders Lord Voldemort today? How do the Horcruxes work?

Ways to destroy Horcruxes and their counter:
Fiendfyre spell (counter = Fieryearth Charm)
Venom from a noble Beast: Basilisk (counter= Phoenix tears), Zhenniao (counter= Nāga saliva), Cat Sìth (counter= Russian White Wolf acid)
Hungarian Horntail's fire (counter= Fieryearth Charm)

"I cannot believe we are unable to find accounts of how Horcruxes work to keep someone alive," said Regulus frustrated.

"You realise we have already found a lot of information about a very obscure practice," remarked Jonathan. "I am amazed we have already found this much."

"I agree, this is really good work boys. Don't forget to take a break now and then in your research," warned Augustus, specifically looking at Severus. "We will not be any good if we're exhausted by the time we are ready to reunite Lord Voldemort with his Horcruxes. Keep in mind the reunification may only be the beginnings of our difficulties."

They all nodded wordlessly, aware they needed to be ready to protect themselves afterwards. Severus resolved to once more explore the Malfoy's library in hope of locating a book who might have escaped his notice the two previous times.

"Time to check he hasn't made another Horcrux or moved one of them," said Jonathan, breaking the morose silence.

Severus nodded and went to fetch his pendulum. Since the first time they had looked for the Horcruxes, Jonathan had left the pendulum with Severus and every two weeks, they checked the Lord had not created another Horcrux or moved one of them. To their relief, it had never been the case and this time was no exception.

"Good. I dread the day you will tell us you have found a fifth," admitted Regulus, voicing their fear outloud.

"Even if he does, we will do the same as with the others." answered Augustus firmly. "As long as we are aware they exist, we can retrieve them. Now, let's review what remains to be done before we practice sending messages through Patronus."

"First, we must retrieve the Locket and test Severus' containing box," said Jonathan. " In the meantime, Severus will try to find the Horcrux hidden in Hogwarts. If the containing box works, we then retrieve the ring, on condition that we have examined the other power inside the ring. Then we'll hopefully be able to retrieve Hogwarts' Horcrux. The diary is the last Horcrux we can retrieve, and we must only do so when we are ready to implement the plan. We'll need to determine which Horcrux was created first. We also need to plan several strategies to approach Lord Voldemort. We must have at least one plan to get him to agree with us and one in case we need to… make him do it anyway," he concluded with a grimace.

"We still have much to do, but I admit I was not sure we would even reach this point when we began," said Regulus quietly. "However time is our enemy here. What is our deadline?"

"The elections will take place in May. If we want to have a hope at winning, I would say Lord Voldemort needs to be sane at least a month before so we can do damage control if necessary," answered Augustus. "Of course, the sooner the better."

"We only have three months left to succeed," stated Jonathan, looking overwhelmed.

"It's not ideal," agreed Augustus. "But I believe in our chances."

There was no other choice but to believe.

"And if we fail? If we cannot reunite Lord Voldemort with his Horcruxes?" asked Regulus.

"Let's not get ahead of ourselves," replied Augustus gently, though his eyes were hooded. "We must address this possibility but it can wait for another meeting. I would like us to practice Patronus messages before you leave and we do not have much time left."

Severus was grateful for his grandfather's answer. He did not want to plan for their failure right now.

The Patronus practice greatly improved their mood as Jonathan turned it into the who-will-send-the-most-absurd-message contest. As Augustus had no doubt planned, they ended their meeting on a success.

Yet, Severus felt unsettled, and declined his friends' offer to go for a drink. He remained in the meeting room as their steps faded away.

"What's on your mind, Severus?" asked Augustus with a concerned look. "Shouldn't you be in a pub with your friends instead of staring morosely through my window?"

"I did not feel like socialising after our meeting. And I wanted to speak with you," answered Severus

"I'm listening," said his grandfather, now looking intrigued.

"When I went to visit Lord Voldemort in December, he told me to call him by his first name," stated Severus.

"It seems like a good thing," answered Augustus after a few seconds of silence "It means he trusts you despite your absence of Mark."

"He told me to call him Marvolo. But you call him Tom."

Augustus gave a sigh of relief.
"Of course. A detail but of such importance. Tom is his muggle name while Marvolo is his wizard name."

Severus frowned.
"But he told me that he disliked his muggle name. Why would he give it to you?"

"This is mostly speculation on my part, but I believe that Tom gave Abraxas, Eleanor and myself his muggle name as a show of good faith. To prove he was not like the Blacks. By the time he told us that he usually went by Marvolo, we had gotten used to him being Tom. I don't think it bothers him coming from us. He certainly never asked us to switch to Marvolo," answered Augustus. "Of course, none of us would ever call him Tom in public."

Severus felt himself settle at his grandfather's simple explanation. What was he expecting? That Marvolo was a name Lord Voldemort had made up for Severus' use only? That he had been lying about Dumbledore refusing to use his chosen name only to earn Severus' sympathy?
He shook his head at himself. He needed to be careful, but it did not mean becoming paranoid.

He did not linger with his grandfather much afterwards, and went back to Malfoy Manor with his mind churning on ways to block the Marks.