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Chapter Four
It was very late at night and Severus had only just returned from a meeting he had with Dumbledore and his father. Dumbledore of course couldn't wrap his mind around losing his precious weapon — oh well, pupil, as he himself claimed — but his father held his ground and insisted Harry not be concerned with the war in any way.

Well, Dumbledore conceded the point and withdrew since he had no chance; when the brat was considered an orphan and he was his magical guardian he could do with him as he wished but now the final say was with Tobias. Though to Severus it was obvious that as soon as the brat's of age Dumbledore will start his involvement anew, and he knew his father suspected as much.

The meeting continued about some — to them — lesser arguments such as Severus stopping his spying, as being a brother of the Boy-Who-Lived would mean either blood-treason or death, therefore even Dumbledore was quick to agree with Tobias and the two of them proceeded to convince Severus about that as well.

He still had his doubts as he knew he was the only spy the Light had, still, Dumbledore seemed to not mind losing him very much, and it still boggled Severus' mind. Has the man found another informant or spy and never told Severus about them? It would answer some past confusions when Dumbledore knew things said at the meeting not only sooner than Severus could've passed them but he knew even more than what Severus had to offer.

***

There was a knock at his door, but he chose to ignore it; there's no way in hell he'll let someone disturb him at three in the morning. He turned on the bed and closed his eyes again, only to be disturbed by the obnoxious knocking once more. He wondered what was going on? If it was an emergency, he was quite sure his father wouldn't bother knocking and simply barged in...

With a sigh he got up from his bed, obviously they wouldn't let him sleep anymore and be a pain in the ass until he did get up and opened the door. The door opened to the well lit corridor and he regretted leaving his wand on the nightstand, because the person who decided to be an annoyance was no one else but P-his little brother. And how this form of address cost him, Severus couldn't even begin to tell. He has done the parentage potion — and blood-heritage, and familial, and sibling blood ones, as well as he's requested copies of his brother's Birth Certificate and Adoption Files from his bank manager whom he trusted — but all he got for his trouble was that Potter was, indeed, his brother. Along with his father's insistence he stopped referring to Potter by his previous name, but stopped addressing him at all if he could help it, and Merlin knows he could. Well, the same brother of his was standing at the other side of his door, waking him in those ungodly hours.

"Get lost," he barked at him and very nearly slammed the door into his brother's face.
"Severus," he said and that froze him on the spot and he couldn't but stare disbelievingly at the boy. Said boy took a deep breath and with a determined set to his face he looked Severus into his eyes.
"What?" he managed, still stunned at the boy's usage of his given name.
"By blood of my veins I require your assistance, Severus, as a payment I offer you a promise to never bother you — by your standards — with anything unless strictly necessary," the boy said, and if Severus was stunned before he wouldn't know how to name his state now.

Asking anything with that phrase meant in essence forming a magical contract within a family; one cannot refuse help but can ask for anything in return, which the other can't refuse either; for failing to provide either help or "payment" means removing the name of the party that refused from the family.

"I accept," Severus said seriously, completely awake now. "What do you want?"
"Two lists; one of people in the Dark Lord's services who you know are disloyal, including their addresses you know of; other one of the same but the people who are doubtful or serving out of fear."

Severus did a double take; that was a serious request, but then what could he expect when the boy asked in a way he had no way of refusing, he mused.

"I'll have it tomorrow evening, I need to think about the second list."
"I understand, thank you," the boy nodded and turned to leave.
"You do know you entered a binding magical contract with me, right?"
"Yes, sir. Sorry for disturbing you this late but I didn't want our father to know about this exchange."
"It's probably for the best he doesn't know," Severus acquiesced wondering if this wasn't perhaps the very first thing he had ever agreed on with the boy.
"Good night, sir," the boy said with another nod and disappear beyond a corner.

Severus closed his door quietly but any of the previous sleepiness left him completely.
"Two lists of names. If I could at least ask what he needs them for... Damn the blasted Blood Promise," he cursed and sat at his desk. Well, if the sleep was avoiding him he had better get down to compiling those lists.

***

The early morning sun was gently stroking his back as he was finishing the second, considerably longer, list. He'll still need to think through the day if he got all the names, but since he had enough time it wasn't that pressing. Grumbling of his stomach reminded him that perhaps a breakfast wouldn't come amiss; his father will be happy when he sees him actually eating the breakfast instead of his usual morning coffee only, but well an all-nighter would starve anyone... Perhaps a coffee first?

When he entered the dining room both of the other occupants of the Manor were already there. His father contentedly munching on the apple pie — he'll never understand his father's sweet tooth — and his... brother... sipping a cup of coffee. After they exchanges the morning greetings and Severus sat at the table a house elf appeared next to Tobias delivering today's Daily Prophet, which was promptly passed to Severus.

As Severus was drinking down his second cup of coffee, his breakfast long gone, another house elf appeared, this time next to his brother, and he noticed the Ministry's seal on the envelope.

"How did you do?"

He looked up when he heard his father's tone was coloured with a poorly hidden curiosity. Ah, must be the OWL results, he snickered. He's told his father few days ago how poor of a student his youngest was and now he was looking forward to the reaction.

There! The shock that spilled over his father's face. Not that he wanted his father to have his good mood destroyed, but finally someone can see that there's nothing special about the Boy Who Lived.

"I told you he's no good," he said snidely though it didn't have much heat behind it, because since the last night he found that his main emotion concerning the boy was curiosity, disdain came only second.
"Sorry , Severus, but if this is called no good, then I have to wonder if young Malfoy is a Merlin reincarnated since you praise him quite often..."

Huh?

"What do you mean?" he frowned before glaring at his brother who ignored whole conversation so far, spacing off. His father handed him the parchment and he took it, quickly scanning it, and his eyes widened in a shock as well.

What the hell? With the exception of practical Transfiguration and Divination, that he finished with Exceeds Expectations, he got straight Outstanding's, and even that paled when he noticed the little pluses marking highest scores achieved and not in one but quite a few subjects, most notable for Severus being the Potions, since he knew his scores were unbeaten for twenty years... until now... His brother quite obviously topped his scores from both Theory of Potions and his overall result, only his Practical Potions remained unmatched.

"Arithmancy and Runes? I thought you didn't attend those," he frowned doubtfully.
"I didn't attend the actual classes, I was studying it in my free time. I was allowed to go to Professor Vector and Babbling if I had any questions."
"How did you take the OWLs then?"
"Privately at the Ministry, sir," the boy said and Severus had to take a deep breath to calm down. His brother was a frigging genius and no one noticed...
"How come I didn't notice your aptitude in Potions then?"
"I don't do well in practicals, sir," he said blandly, and both Severus and their father looked at the boy incredulously. Not doing well in practicals? Severus was holding the very proof of the Outstanding work in his hand.
"I had wondered the same, though," their father said musingly. "Severus, you said Harry isn't doing well in Potions and from your stories I'd agree to that statement. But with his OWL results I can't help but wonder..."

They both turned to the boy but as they were about to ask about the mystery, they were yet again disturbed by a house elf. The little creature popped in next to Harry and handed him a folded note, no address or any sign that would at least hint to its origin.

"Thank you, Lori," he said quietly to the house elf, who happily twitched her ears before disappearing again.

Harry unfolded the parchment and quickly took in what could be only a few words judging by the speed. Severus only stared as the boy bit his finger and smeared few droplets of blood on the parchment, the note immediately disappearing.

"If you would excuse me," was all he said before he stood from his spot, leaving his coffee half-full, and soundlessly walked out of the room.

What was that letter? It was eerily similar to some summons he'd received from the Order in the past, but they have long since dropped that particular way of communication. But it was obviously something important since it required a real unchallenged proof that the person who received the note was the one it was addressed to. The only question remaining what was so important, and who would correspond with a sixteen year old in such manner, never mind how the boy knew how to use it. Though, his brother knew of the Blood Promise as well. He looked down at his brother's OWL results that he still held. Well, the boy was clever enough, that much he couldn't deny.

"What was that?"
"Blood Proof."
"I know what he did, but who the hell was that letter from? He's only sixteen, he has no business dealing with such serious stuff that would require something like that."
"I'll ask Dumbledore if you want," he said trying to calm his father down.
"Dumbledore?"
"Well, I never exactly paid attention to his correspondence, so I don't know. But if there's anyone he'd go to for advice, it would be Dumbledore."
"Please, Severus," his father nodded.

***

An evening sun found him in the Headmaster's office.

"What was so urgent, Severus? Are there some troubles?"
"On behalf of my father I wanted to ask you about... my brother," he said almost stuttering the last part, since it was the first time he ever addressed the boy as such aloud.
"I'm glad you are getting on better."
"We're not, but I can't very well call him Potter anymore."
"Yes, yes. But since you didn't call him "that blasted brat" allow me to take it as a good sign," Dumbledore said with a little smile, and Severus had to wonder where did the damned twinkle disappear to. Had something happened?
"Is something wrong?" he decided to ask.
"I'm sorry, Severus, but I don't quite understand what you mean?"
"You seem somehow... morose today."
"Ah, never mind that, my boy. It's always unpleasant to be reminded that no one is infallible."
"So something did happen."
"Something have, indeed, a mistake I made fifteen years ago and I'm afraid it will be hard one to fix; never mind the fact I can't be the one to do it, since I lost the trust of one of my most cherished and they won't want to be anywhere near me unless it's unavoidable," the Headmaster sighed and the little smile slipped from his face altogether.
"Can... Can I help you?"
"Perhaps you can, Severus, but I can't initiate any of it... For one it would lose its value, and for another, I'd need to betray what they confided in me a few days ago in a fit of despair. Whichever is the case, they'd be lost to me for good then."
"I'm sorry."
"Not your fault, Severus. I place the blame where it rightfully belongs," Dumbledore said with another sigh, and seeing him like this, old and almost folded into himself from grief of kind, Severus was horrified by the discovery that the Leader of Light is truly only a human.
"But you came to ask about Harry, Severus," he said and Severus snapped his head up.
"Yes, yes," he said still befuddled by his little eureka moment.
"What did you want to know? You said your father wanted to know something as well?"
"Yes, the same thing actually. This morning my brother received a letter with a Blood Proof attached. Since it's not a normal way of communication we were both quite alarmed."
"Yes, I can understand that."
"Do you know anyone that he'd exchange letters of such serious nature with?"
"I do, Severus. The letter was from me."
"What?"
"Few days ago Harry asked me something. Not anything serious as you would think, but for Harry it is a serious matter. As you know both me and Harry are at the top of Voldemort's hit list and so we need to take precautions to know the conversation is truly kept between intended persons."
"I see. But why didn't you send Fawkes?"
"Well, your father set anti-phoenix wards in case I would try contact Harry and get him into the war. I am not allowed in either, unless I'm invited or it's emergency."
"I didn't know."
"Tobias wasn't very pleased with me. In the light of recent discoveries of my failures, neither am I. It seems I overlooked or ignored a lot of things; letting Harry fight being only one of them."
"I won't ask what the letter was about, can you just promise me it wasn't anything related to the Dark Lord?"
"It was related to Harry's life, so I can't exactly say it wasn't related to the Dark Lord, but it had nothing to do with the war."
"Thank you," he nodded and got up. It was obvious the dark mood won't be leaving this office any soon, despite Fawkes trilling his calming songs.

"Perhaps I could talk to father? I know you were good friends before this incident?"
"It's not necessary, Severus. Tobias has a right to be angry. But you could pass a message from me?"
"Of course. What is it?"
"Tell him: Thank you for opening my eyes; it was unpleasant but it was about time someone told me off."

Not knowing what to say, he simply nodded and exited Headmaster's office.
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