AN: I hope you all are well! Thank you all for your recommendations for an all-out-genderswap story. Almost all were for "Harry Potter and the Distaff Side" side by Clell65619 which I have read by now. I think it is a nicely written story but sadly not finished yet. You might want to give it a try!

This chapter mostly takes place on Wednesday the 10th of October
Words annotated with a star (*) will have an explanation at the end.

oooOOooo

Unexpected

Harry sat at his desk up in his room holding the little mirror Marvolo had created for him. The normally reflective surface showed showed Marvolo's face at the moment. The man had greeted Harry with an almost cheerful, "Hello, Henry. How was your day?"

So Harry started with the most notable news of the day. As their talks over the mirror were usually short, he kept to short tales of lessons and school-related activities. "The Aurors have found enough evidence connected to the attack that four students were suspended and sent home. Cormac McLaggen and two of his Gryffindor friends – Summers and Parker – and one Ravenclaw from his year, Belby. I feel much lighter now. It's quite silly, isn't it?" And he did feel kind of silly. They hadn't done anything dangerous since he had gotten his own room, and maybe even had scared themselves with what they had done. It was unlikely, but as Harry didn't know for sure, he gave them the benefit of the doubt. Or tried to. McLaggen had been a right ass from the beginning of the year.

"So our suspicions were correct," an introspective-sounding Marvolo said at the other end.

Harry blinked, feeling the blood drain from his face. Marvolo had known?

"Henry?" now the man sounded concerned and red eyes were searching Harry's face. "What is wrong?"

Trying to calm his racing heart and to look unconcerned, Harry answered with a little shrug. "Nothing."

Harry could almost see the wheels turning behind those red eyes, and wondered when the man who had adopted him and seemed to care had started to be so easy to read.

"Don't lie, Henry." The admonishment came almost immediately, but the wizard still sounded distracted. Then his gaze sharpened again. "I did something wrong, didn't I? But what? Henry, I'm new to this pa… guardian thing, if you don't tell me what I did wrong, I can't change it."

Now Harry was truly puzzled. He couldn't remember any adult admitting to errors like this. Almost the moment it did happen, and without any excuses. He wanted to stay angry at Marvolo for keeping something from him that did directly concerned him, but he felt his anger slipping away from him.

Despite the dissipating anger, the resentment was clear in his voice as Harry finally answered. "You knew who had attacked me? And you didn't tell me? Why?"

After a few slow blinks – probably thinking about what Harry had just told him – Marvolo took a few moments before he frowned and made a face. "I acted like Dumbledore." He mock shuddered. "I'm sorry, Henry." He sounded like he meant it, but Harry was still miffed about the fact Marvolo had withheld information as all adults did, or so it felt, at least. "Severus reviewed his memory of the morning when that potion was put into your goblet. He identified a few likely suspects, but it was nothing that would hold up in an investigation. So… I decided to not act on the information," Marvolo finally explained, still searching Harry's face through the mirror.

Considering what acting on the information might have entailed – torture was the first to come to mind – Harry was a tad relieved the other had done nothing. But the fact the four had been suspended didn't mean they would be gone from the school for good. "Well, the Aurors have managed to find something substantial enough. But I'm not sure it will work out." What he knew of the workings of the Ministry, it was all too likely that at least one would manage to worm his way out of consequences. McLaggen had mentioned, once or twice… that his father was a big number in the Ministry.

"I will make sure that the procedure will be followed closely. Even if I have to bribe someone to get it done."

This statement made Harry laugh, bracing himself against the edge of his desk. It was too funny – in a sad way – bribing someone to ensure that proper legal procedure was followed.

Abandoning that line of thought – it was not likely to go anywhere – Harry changed the topic. "We had our first lesson with Professor Slinkhard today. He's not as bad as Umbridge. But it seems like he really has something against practical defence. Hermione thinks we should start a sort of Defence club." Marvolo allowed the shift in topic and Harry was glad about it. He would have to think a little about the fact that Marvolo had not told him about the suspects Professor Snape had found, so it was better to stop talking about it for the moment.

"A club? Sounds like a reasonable idea. If you need one of the professors to agree to help, I can make sure Professor Snape will hold no objections."

Shaking his head, Harry started to explain their plan, or rather Hermione's plan of action.

Just before they would say their goodbye for the day, Marvolo started on another topic. "Quite recently it was brought to my attention, that Fenrir Greyback might try to target you, Henry. He is all for a werewolves-rule kind of society, planning to annihilate all human wizards and witches. Either by infecting or killing them. My approach to integrate those affected by lycanthropy into society is something he can't condone. As he is known to target the family and friends of those he wants to harm… be careful and warn your friends and allies."

Harry nodded, more annoyed than surprised that there was another person out there willing to hurt him. "I will warn everyone. Will this limit my ability to go to Hogsmeade?"

"No. But I will stress again that I don't want you to be wandering the grounds after dark. And never set a foot into the Forbidden Forest if you want to fly on your broom at all next summer."

"Yes, sir," Harry answered. He really didn't fancy a stroll through the Forbidden Forest. Meeting the acromantula back when he had been a second-year had cured him of any desire to go in there on his own, or even with friends. Going in there, knowing that a werewolf might be hunting him, would be utter madness.

After they had ended their call, Harry placed the mirror in the one small drawer in his desk that he had reserved for the two communication devices, and got out the one linked to the mirror in possession of Padfoot.

Flopping down gracelessly on his bed, green eyes stared up to the canopy over the bed. So Marvolo had withheld information that directly related to him. Names of the suspects behind the attacks he had been subjected to. Even if he might have been able to deduce the names by himself – McLaggen had been rather hostile, and his friends always did what he did – but that was not the point.

Marvolo had done something wrong.

Not counting everything the man had done while he still had been Voldemort. If Harry started to count that, he would be back where he had been at the start of the summer holidays. Doubting everything, being miserable and constantly confused.

Not a state of mind Harry appreciated. Neither of them could change the past. But it had looked like Marvolo tried to make a better future.

Well, he had realized he had made an error, and asked Harry for help to understand what he had done wrong. And then he had shared information again. It might have been something Harry needed to know for his safety. But Marvolo could simply have said stay indoors as the grown-ups had done when they had thought Sirius Black had broken out of Azkaban to hunt down Harry.

Rubbing his hand across his brow, Harry frowned. It really was complicated. But as Mrs. Goyle liked to point out, humans were not perfect. Everyone was bound to make errors. The important thing was how they acted when they realized they had made an error.

All in all, Harry thought Marvolo had reacted okay. There were no other words he could think of to describe his thoughts on this. He probably would have to wait and see how Marvolo's information sharing would develop. This had been the first slip-up Harry knew of… and there he stopped himself. He would not descend into that pitfall.

Sitting back up, Harry grabbed the mirror Sirius had given him, scooting back to sit against the headboard. Speaking with his godfather certainly would cheer him up.

oooOOooo

"I don't think this is a good idea, Marvolo," Xerxes said from his seat by the fire, sipping from his tea, watching as his friend and Lord prepared himself for the day's plans.

"Which part exactly, Xerxes?" was the amused question asked in return. The Dark-Lord-in-hiding grabbed a vest of enchanted leather and slipped it on over his sturdy but elegant linen shirt.

"Oh, I'm not sure," Xerxes drawled, amused despite himself. "The fact you will show a place created entirely by dark magic – by your hand! - to the Auror Department. Or maybe that you plan to eliminate an army of Inferi? If you would stop at destroying them?! But no! You have to recover the bodies! I never would have thought that Lord Slytherin would someday take unnecessary risks." And he really had problems comprehending why his Lord was undertaking this endeavour. It was overly risky. The Aurors might find something that would break the story their Lord was telling, exposing his duplicity and deceit to the public. Additionally, there was the real risk of bodily harm, destroying Inferi was hard enough, but to reclaim the bodies? It felt like utter madness.

The grey-haired wizard was taken by surprise when his younger-looking friend just chuckled at this, slipping into a relatively short, formfitting leather robe. "Well, it gave me the ability to retrieve something I left behind at the ancestral home of the Black family in London. It will garner some goodwill with the Ministry and the broader public. So I would say it is a pretty decent move to solidify my stand within society." Finished with closing the silver buckles on his robes, Marvolo straightened and threw a smirk in his friend's direction. "That I get to practice Dark magic in front of Ministry personnel and they will thank me for it, just adds this little edge to the whole situation. You know?"

Oh yes, Xerxes could see the appeal to this scenario. And it was perfectly fitting for Marvolo to use this to fulfil his own desire to rub his skill and knowledge into the faces of the light wizards, while still maintaining the image of perfect, nice and friendly Lord Slytherin.

"Just be careful, Marvolo." What else could Xerxes say? His Lord would do as he wished, nothing an old school friend – Xerxes still wasn't sure if Marvolo had had any true friends as a child – could say would deter him from it.

"I will be." A much more solemn looking Marvolo turned to look at Xerxes, finally attired befitting the planned activities for the day. "I already have taken a few precautions. Don't fear if this body should come to harm. Most of the precautions that kept me from dying back then are still in place. But be prepared to take over duties as Regent for Henry and the Slytherin Lordship. I will certainly return if this body is killed, but I will endeavour to avoid the need for such an action." Xerxes was inclined to believe his Lord but didn't manage to say anything as he still tried to process the announcement so casually made just moments before.

The Dark Lord gave his follower a knowing smirk. "It is likely that Lord Black will gain custody should I once again vanish. Should this happen, I will contact you as soon as possible. There are instructions in my desk in the study at Headquarters. I trust you will only search for it if it proves necessary." Still dumbfounded, Xerxes nodded in confirmation, his unbound hair swinging with the motion.

An old clock chimed somewhere in the house. "I should leave now or I will be late," the younger of them said, picking up a small satchel from the chair it had been resting on, moving to leave the dressing room they had occupied at Lestrange Manor.

Xerxes hurried to stand and follow, to show his Lord out as was proper by all standards of society. He really hoped that there would be no need for him to go looking for those instructions. Even if he now was curious beyond believe over what those instructions might contain.

They all had speculated about what means had been used to return their Lord to them. It never had been spelled out what the ritual had been or how he had even stayed in this plane when his body had been destroyed. Pettigrew had been handed over to the Ministry relatively quickly, and to approach Snape for what he might know, because of his involvement with returning their Lord to a human body, was useless. If there ever had been a man able to keep a secret, it was Severus Snape. Xerxes still remembered the thin youth the man once had been. Who would have ever thought he would become such an exceptional Potions Master? This only went to prove that there was no telling what a person could accomplish by taking a look at their parents and upbringing.

After his Lord had vanished with a flash of green flames, Xerxes made his way to his study. There was paperwork to tackle. Custody of a few children to transfer, appointments with the Goblins to negotiate. They seemed to be unsure how to react to the sudden increase in demand for ancestry tests. The newly appointed Headmaster wondered if they were stalling because the potion needed to prepare the parchment was time-consuming to brew… or maybe the goblin parts used were not readily available… something like goblin hearts certainly would limit their willingness to brew more of it on short notice.

Banishing these thoughts, Xerxes sat down behind his desk, asked the elves for some tea, and started to work.

ooOoo

Marvolo stepped out of the Floo directly into the Auror office. He had been allowed to use it this one time, and was glad he hadn't had to walk all the way from the entrance up to here.

His first look fell on the group already assembled and waiting for him. Bill Weasley was there, as were Madame Bones, Rufus Scrimgeour, and a few more Aurors. Marvolo was curious if they all intended to accompany him, or if they just had come to see them off. There was another curse-breaker clad in reinforced protective clothing – as was Bill Weasley – and two Unspeakables in their distinctive robes. The lively conversations came to a halt as soon as his presence was noticed.

"It looks like I'm the last one. I'm not late, am I?" Marvolo asked, looking from one to the other, checking who was there and what the mood was in the group. It seemed to be mostly good, the atmosphere sated with curiosity.

"You aren't late, Lord Slytherin," Scrimgeour said, his expression sour. "The others were already here to begin with. There have been a few changes to the expedition team at the last moment, and you need to provide a way to get us all to the place we want to rid of dark magic."

Marvolo didn't try to keep his brow down at that. Up till now the man hadn't given the impression that he had any big reservations about Marvolo and his actions after he had been declared a new person. It always had seemed like the man was a stickler for the rules… and had aspirations for higher positions. Maybe the wizard saw the change Marvolo had brought to the Ministry challenging his possible avenues to higher ranks.

"I could apparate someone licensed to create portkeys by side-along apparation to near the place. It would take a little time, but this way a portkey could be created to take the members of the expedition to the site quickly. It would be faster than apparating each one separately." Marvolo suggested, fully aware that there was a bunch of bureaucratic regulations around the creation of portkeys. He had wanted to plan for a little longer to sort all these little problems out before they actually went to clear out all the Inferi. But the Auror Department had pushed the matter.

"You clearly know the place we would travel to. And I'm fairly sure that you know how to create a portkey yourself, Lord Slytherin," the taller of the two Unspeakables stated in a slightly sarcastic tone, not asking outright why they should go to all the trouble when there was a much faster and easier method to reach their goal.

Suppressing a smirk, instead aiming for a modest expression, Marvolo nodded in confirmation. "I certainly possess the knowledge to create portkeys, but I don't have the license needed. Nor have I memories of passing the necessary steps and exams to get one." Back before his first body had been destroyed, he never had bothered with getting such licenses. Why should he have? The licenses were mostly a way to make money – as they were really costly – and were used as a way to restrict and monitor magic deemed too dangerous or too easily abused to be freely accessible to the public.

But considering what could happen if a portkey transported its passengers into something solid or deposited them a hundred meters above ground… it really was common sense to only use portkeys created by those who knew what they were doing. Not that a Ministry license was all that much reassurance. More than once there had been instances of examiners taking bribes to grant licences to someone not making reliable portkeys.

Marvolo certainly preferred to use those he had created himself.

Madame Bones snorted and shook her head. "Yes, yes... we all see that you are trying to follow the law this time around, Lord Slytherin." There was a chuckle from somewhere in the group. Marvolo thought it might have been one of the Unspeakables. "But we will not get to the cave if we try to follow the protocol too closely. So, is everyone comfortable with taking a portkey created by Lord Slytherin?" she asked of those present and got more or less neutral nods as an answer. "Go ahead, Lord Slytherin, I accept your offer to help us get this endeavour on the road and finished in a reasonable time."

Giving a shallow bow, Marvolo had to concede that Madame Bones knew how to make the convoluted Ministry move to reach a goal. "If someone could provide me with a length of rope I would be happy to comply with this request."

In short order the required length of rope was provided and glowed in the deep blue indicating the spell had worked and created a portkey. All members of the expedition took hold of the rope and Marvolo activated the portkey, whirling them all away towards the coast and their destination.

ooOoo

They all landed – more or less gracefully – on an empty stretch of land with a nice few of the sea. Wind was blowing, smelling of salt, fish, and algae, the cries of seagulls filling the air. Bill looked around, wondering where there could be a cave around here.

When the last of the wizards – there wasn't a single witch in their team, as Madame Bones had declared herself too old to take part in such a dangerous plan – had got back to his feet they started to follow Lord Slytherin over the short grass blown every which way by the stiff breeze. As his robes were designed to protect him from dangerous magic and not the effects of the elements, Bill was glad when they came to a narrow ghyll* with a steep catwalk at the side, giving them shelter from the cold biting wind.

Following one after the other, they descended until they came to a small platform almost at sea level, frequently set under water by the incoming waves.

"We can swim through this opening, or conjure a boat to row… maybe that would be difficult, we are a rather large group," Lord Slytherin said pointing at a small hole in the cliff, almost invisible due to the rough waves constantly crashing against the stone. "Or we could walk along the edge, if you give me a little time to dispel the protections placed so the walkway can't be discovered."

They all opted to wait a moment, getting wet feet – only in a few cases probably; both he and his colleague had cast an impermeable charm at their boots in anticipation of all the water they would encounter – was preferable to having to swim in this weather.

Bill watched, concentrating on every move Lord Slytherin made, assessing the man's skill with what he was doing. When he had watched him counter the curse on the Headmaster's hand, he had gotten the feeling that the wizard had a vast well of knowledge at his disposal, and what he was seeing now only confirmed this. He was really curious what they would get to see once they were inside this cave they had been briefed about.

The trip along the wall felt longer than it was. The spray constantly threatened to soak them, while the wind tried to sweep them into the sea. They all took a moment to catch their breath once they reached the inside of the cave – or more likely an antechamber, as there was no lake in sight – casting drying and warming charms on their clothes once Lord Slytherin had confirmed that there was nothing dangerous they could trigger here with casting magic of any kind.

"The cave is behind this wall." Lord Slytherin said, gesturing at a wall looking no different than the others. The Aurors stepped back letting Bill and the other curse-breaker step up and check the wall. In short time they had spotted the rather crude spell on it, hiding a doorway that would activate once some blood of a human was smeared on it.

"Not a really complicated or sophisticated protection," sneered the older curse-breaker, whom Bill had never really liked. The man tended to make crude jokes and belittle the apprentices, not a trait he liked in someone he had to work with. But this had been a volunteers-only mission, and beside them, there had been no others crazy enough to volunteer.

"Well," Lord Slytherin drawled, "no one ever said paranoia added to any aesthetic sense. I think the location alone is not easy to find or access." He got out a small dagger which he used to make a small cut on his left palm, pressing his hand and the blood on it to the wall.

Without further comment the wizard with the shady past stepped through the opening archway into the cave beyond. The others followed, getting out their wands in preparation for what lay hidden here.

There was no real lighting, only a low green glow from somewhere in the middle of a fairly big, dark lake.

"Don't step in the water. Be aware that there is no way for a witch or wizard to apparate in this place, nor to use a portkey to leave. If you should reach the centre of the lake, there is a small island there. Should the basin on this island still have some potion in it, don't drink it! It will make you suffer and forget every safety measure you might normally take. Just leave it be. Any other questions?" Lord Slytherin's instructions were curt, spoken with some force and a chill in his voice that made it clear he was not happy.

Bill looked over the lake and wondered how many Inferi there were, and how many more could find a place under the surface as smooth as glass. When he cast the standard detection spell for Inferi – he had had to look that one up in preparation for this trip – his mouth fell open and he only dimly registered the shocked exclamations from the others. There was no need to speculate how many Inferi might fit into the lake before it was full. It was already filled to its maximum capacity.

Now the grim look on Lord Slytherin's face took on a whole new meaning. Bill looked at the man in his expensive protective clothing and wondered how it must be to know that he had done this. That he had killed this many people and trapped them here as animated dead bodies, forced to do his bidding, leaving many families not knowing what had become of their loved ones.

With few words they coordinated their plan on how to go about this mission and started to set up their equipment.

Time to get these bodies out of here.

ooOoo

Watching the Unspeakables getting some body bags out of their charmed satchel to store and transport the bodies, Marvolo scowled to mask his anticipation for the spells he would have to cast soon. There were a great many bodies in that lake, and they probably would have to come here more than once to clear the entire lake. A little bemused, Marvolo pondered about how the quest to get one body back for a bargain with Black had turned into dismantling the entire trap he had built here. But considering his fairly recent revelation, it might not be so unexplainable. If the Muggles were to find this place, magic and their whole society would be at risk of discovery. And what he had read about the past, together with his own experiences, had him convinced that it was truly in their best interest to stay hidden.

Funny how such a seemingly inconsequential oath could influence one's behaviour. But as long as this nudging towards actions benefiting the community was compatible with his own goals, it was not something he would fight against. Not that he was optimistic that fighting the compulsion was even possible. With some luck, the best for the community, in his opinion, would continue to align with his plans. Besides having planned to reach a position of power, he had always wanted to improve their society to something better... based on his outlook, of course.

"Lord Slytherin," the taller of the Unspeakables spoke to gain his attention, "we have prepared everything and now will require your assistance."

Getting his almost white wand out of its holster, Marvolo stepped to the lake shore, preparing for the spell to call forth the Inferi one after the other. Now the amusing part of the day was about to start. He would call the Inferi with a spell classified as dark, passing them over to the curse breakers to subdue only for the Unspeakables to identify and store the bodies.

The Aurors were there to observe and guard their backs. Marvolo was unhappy that he had not managed to get at least one of his own Aurors on this mission, but Scrimgeour had insisted on attending himself and had brought his own hand-picked Auror, one who was neither part of the Order – as far as he knew – nor one of his.

The next hour passed in a steady stream of magic cast by them all. Marvolo held his spell at a steady pace, timing it that the others had enough time to do their part before the next Inferius stepped up to them. All the faces he could see when one of the others occasionally came into his line of sight were grim. From time to time, one of the Unspeakables would call out the name of a person they could identify, and Marvolo felt a little bit lighter – even as he was quite exhilarated with the liberal use of powerful magic – as the name of Regulus Black was called. So the original reason to do all this was fulfilled. Lord Black would be able to bury his brother.

After they had retrieved around fifty bodies one of the Unspeakables called for a break. Marvolo used the moment to stretch his legs a little and check the work of the others. It would be really unfortunate if one of the Inferi were to get out of its bag and run around the Ministry. It might be amusing to imagine, but it would be counterproductive.

As he was sauntering over to the edge of the lake, along the line of Inferi stored in dark blue bags, the sound of ripping fabric made him spin in place. He saw one of the Inferi manage to get out of his temporary prison, extending its claw-like hands towards the red-headed wizard standing near the place, his back turned, his wand waving through the pattern of a general detection and examination charm. Without really thinking about his actions, Marvolo propelled himself into the air with the spell for unsupported flight he had developed once for intimidation purposes.
Several yells alerted the Weasley man to the dangerous situation he was in, making him turn the moment before Marvolo managed to reach him and shove him out of the way of danger, grabbing the Inferius while flying by. Marvolo had a vague plan of dropping the Inferius into the lake and making his way back to the shore, but he had forgotten about an important part of his protections. It was impossible to cross the lake by any other means than the boat he had provided to do so. An attempt to fly over the lake by broom, for instance, would end just as his own flying ended, by falling into the lake.

While the claws of the dead body he held with one hand left deep gashes on his arms after they had shredded his robes and the shirt, Marvolo contemplated that he was lucky he still was relatively near to the others, and glad that he had left Xerxes with clear instructions.

Then he came into contact with the water's surface – as hard as any floor falling from this height and with that much force – getting the wind knocked out of him, submerging and instantly assaulted by the dead waiting under the water to do exactly this.

Fighting to remain calm, to cast the needed spells to control them without his wand in hand and without uttering a word, Marvolo felt more and more claws break through his clothes, opening wounds, making him bleed.

He felt his strength leaving him as his body started to demand air, but he was held down and dragged deeper by the undead he himself had created. Oh, the irony. Totally disorientated, Marvolo finally lost consciousness, sinking deeper into the water.

oooOOooo

Minerva hurried to keep up with her student as he almost raced through the corridors of St. Mungo's. She frowned, not about the young man so eager to meet his guardian, but about Albus. She was fairly certain that her old friend would have sent almost every Gryffindor to see an injured parent without a moment's hesitation. But in this instance, he had almost seemed determined to keep the boy from the hospital whatever the cost.

Now that she finally had managed to force the Headmaster to follow his own rules and policies – family always had been important to him – she was accompanying Mr. Slytherin to visit his adoptive parent in hospital.

She was unsure what she should feel about the apparent relationship developing between the man that had been You-Know-Who and the son of two of her favourite students. Was she happy that Harry had found family? Or should she be worried that the dark wizard would influence the still so innocent boy onto a dangerous path?

She decided that it was not at all important what she thought the moment she managed to catch up to the boy in the private room the receptionist had sent them to. Harry was hanging over the bed, his arms wrapped around the man lying in it and looking bewildered, looking as if he were hanging on for dear life.

Who was she to judge what was right and wrong here?

ooOoo

Harry didn't care one bit what others might think about him. What they might think about Harry Potter, The-Boy-Who-Lived, hugging Lord Slytherin. He didn't even care what he would feel later. Probably guilt for fearing for the safety of his parents' murderer. The man still plotting to gain power, going against the Ministry, hiding escapees, still torturing and killing.

Earlier today during a lecture, Harry had suddenly felt intense panic and fear, only for these emotions to be cut off suddenly. Until Professor McGonagall had come to inform him that his guardian had been injured during a task he had undertaken for the Auror Office and was in St. Mungo's, Harry had felt like he was sitting in a heated cauldron. He was unable to sit still or concentrate on anything. He had known that Marvolo had planned to go to the cave and get rid of all the Inferi lying in wait there. The older wizard had been certain he would be able to handle everything that might happen there, and Harry had been inclined to believe him. Clutching the man in his arms even harder, Harry now knew how foolish that had been. There never was a way to be certain.

"Ouch, Henry, please, you are squeezing too hard," the strangled voice of the wizard Harry had been so worried about said, patting the teen's back awkwardly with one of his heavily bandaged hands.

Dropping his arms instantly, Harry stepped back, looking a little sheepish. "Sorry, sir," he mumbled letting his green gaze wander over the other's body. His arms and hands were bandaged, and Harry could see a bandage peeking out under the only half closed sleeping shirt Marvolo was wearing. The wizard was overly pale as well, almost as pale as Professor Snape usually was.

"It's alright, Henry," Marvolo said with a small smile in his eyes. .:A hug like that is nicer than I had thought it would be:. Harry's eyes widened in surprise. Sure, he had known that Marvolo hadn't had a happy childhood, and that he had no real friends or family after that. But he never had made the connection that the wizard had never been hugged before.

"Are you terribly hurt, sir?" Harry really wanted to know how bad it was. He was disturbed to know that he seemed to care, to really care, about Marvolo Slytherin, the man that had been Voldemort until he had decided to no longer use the name. He knew what he would like to speak about at his next appointment with Mrs. Goyle.

"Nothing that will not heal with time," Marvolo dismissed the question, but flinched as he waved his hand. "In fact, the healers here have agreed to let me go home as long as I have a competent healer there to care for me. I already contacted Healer Greengrass, who will be up to the task, I'm sure."

"That's good." At least it sounded like it was something good. "But what did happened, sir?" Marvolo patted the bed at his side, inviting Harry to sit down – again startling the teenager with such a normal action – before he started to tell what had happened to bring him to this state.

Neither wizard noticed the Transfiguration Professor leaving the room, closing the door softly behind her.

ooOoo

Minerva stared at the wall opposite the door she just had closed. Deep in thought, she didn't notice the oldest Weasley boy walking up to her and almost jumped out of her boots as he addressed her. "Professor McGonagall! You brought Harry to see Lord Slytherin?"

Holding her left hand to her heart, Minerva nodded, catching her breath. "I did, Mr. Weasley. And I will take him back to school after he has talked to his guardian." She was not about to explain more than that. It would be highly unprofessional.

She was a little startled to see the solemn nod from the former Head Boy. "That's just as well, I suppose. He can use the distraction of being with his friends after such a shock, I'm sure. Never would have thought that Lord Slytherin would risk his own skin to save anyone."

"So that's what happened?" Minerva couldn't stop herself from asking, still sounding professional and not like one of those gossiping witches or wizards always after the latest scandal in one of the old families. She was curious what exactly had happened, and was sure that no report she could probably later read in the Prophet would get near the truth.

"Yeah, he got me out of a tight spot. Do you know what we were doing today?" Minerva negated this with a small shake of her head, prompting the younger wizard to tell her the whole story with big gestures and excited words.

By the time Minerva had brought Mr. Slytherin back to the Gryffindor common room, she was certain that Albus had lost his grasp on reality concerning everything connected to Lord Slytherin. She would have to see if other areas of his duties were affected by this. If he was going senile, she had to make sure no students would come to harm.

oooOOooo

And there he was. Again surrounded by his adoring fans. But he wasn't a proper Gryffindor. Adopted by You-Know-Who, speaking with snakes. The real and the human ones. If he were a proper Gryffindor, he would have run away. Would have stopped speaking with snakes, those with legs and those without.

But no. He kept his dark ways, and also made sure his friend got on the team and not Cormac. Who certainly was a much better flyer than this Weasley. She glanced up from her book of simple prank spells she tried to read, looking over to the group of fifth-years sitting around Slytherin – she always said it with disgust, even in her head – listening to his story of some supposedly epic adventure some people had had today.

If she only could manage to make him slip in his acting. Then everyone would see him for the slimy snake he truly was, and her Cormac could come back to school to be with her.

Idly flipping a few pages, she came across one spell and its big flashing warning box. Well, this one had potential. If she set it up at the right time, she was likely to get her target.

She kept on plotting while Harry, the most deceptive student in the whole of Hogwarts, acted for the stupid so they would keep following him.

This would not go on much longer, because she had a plan.

oooOOooo

Dilys watched sadly from her canvas as the current Headmaster of Hogwarts paced around the office, muttering to himself. She remembered like it had been yesterday when the young man had come to this office for the first time. He had been made Head Boy and was getting instructions from the Headmaster of the time. He had been such an eager teenager, eager to learn all magic he could, eager to prove himself. Dilys had always thought he was a tad hostile towards Muggles, but it was not an uncommon sentiment then, and he didn't seem like a person inclined towards violence.

Of course they – the community of former Headmasters and Headmistresses from the time the magical portrait had been invented onwards – had heard of him before. Professors had been in the office talking about the bright student Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, debating if they should offer him additional tutoring, or let him skip a year.

There were many rumours the portraits overheard during the day and discussed once all the humans had gone to sleep. They had formed a habit of betting on possible outcomes of the lives of the students they got to see and hear more of. And they almost all had agreed that Mr. Dumbledore probably would become Minister of Magic one day.

Looking back, it was obvious that they had been oblivious to much that was going on in the boy's life.

The Sorting Hat had a habit of telling them all about the first-years he had sorted. So they all knew that the younger brother of Albus Dumbledore – Aberforth – had come to Hogwarts as well. But they never heard of him beside that. He was an average student, like most of the children. As they were hooked up to the school in a way she didn't comprehend, they all knew the names of all children eligible to attend Hogwarts the moment they were born somewhere on the British islands, even if they were unable to talk about them if not directly asked about one of them.

So they knew there had been a girl by the name of Dumbledore who should have come to the school, but never did.

When Albus returned as the teacher for Transfiguration, he had lost most of the brightness so evident in the younger man he had been. The discussion a few years later when the Headmaster had wanted him to become Head of House for Gryffindor led to a long discussion later in the night over what had happened to make the young man so weary of positions of power, when he had been so eager for influence shortly before graduation.

The Albus Dumbledore of the present had sat down in his chair, sipping on a cup of tea, looking tired and weary. They all had witnessed how the man had been scheming and plotting, and watched all his plans crumbling under his hands. If she didn't know the reasons for his struggles, she might have been tempted to think him an evil man.

At first they had got to see a pleasant teacher with a penchant for those students a little laid back, not striving for powerful positions, but following their dreams of travelling the world, playing Quidditch, and getting involved in Arts.

They had seen him struggling to avoid positions of power, long discussions until he consented to become Deputy Headmaster under Dippet.

Then Tom Riddle had come to the school, setting the Sorting Hat to reminiscing over times long past now that a descendant of Slytherin had found his way into the school. The enchanted nuisance – he tended to rub it in their faces that he was older than all of them – had met descendants from almost all the founders' families over time, bemoaning that he was forbidden to share what he found in their heads with the children, and therefore was forced to let the lines be hidden for so very long.

The fact Albus Dumbledore resented those that sought out power was becoming clearer and clearer with time. That he suspected the young boy Mr. Riddle of evil was clear. Sadly the Headmaster, Dippet, never asked them about what they knew about those attacks, or why some students always came to ask if they could stay. It was not only Tom Riddle who didn't want to return to the Muggle world during a war.

Dilys wished she could tell Albus that his struggle with power was not shared by all. That seeking out influence was not a mark of evil like he seemed to believe. Not everyone sought power to do bad things.

It had been one night after Albus had become Headmaster – the fifth or so anniversary of the famous duel between Albus and the wizard named Grindelwald – that they finally learned the background of all those seemingly random actions to keep power out of the hands of those reaching for it the most.

They had learned of Ariana, the girl who had never made it to Hogwarts, Gellert Grindelwald and a summer romance, the guilt convincing that brilliant young man that he could not be trusted with power, that there rarely ever was one who could wield it and do good.

The sudden change from academical interest in all fields of magic as a student to banishing all that could be deemed dangerous and was named dark in current times as a professor… The death of his little sister over a disagreement between brothers over a lover and the grand plans of two young men… it did explain the automatic suspicion Albus had held for those using power consciously, and his favouritism towards those that didn't seem to hold any regard for their social rules, boundaries, and structures, or lost themselves in topics never leading to political influence.

It looked like Albus was finally on his way to losing everything because he refused to acknowledge that it was possible for there to be something other than love between parents, or guardians, and the children in their care. Sending Tom Riddle back into a war-ridden city into the care of an alcoholic woman had been an error, sending Severus Snape back into a house with a drunkard father, doing nothing to curtail his favourite group of careless bullies from tormenting a boy their age, sending Harry Potter back to Muggles afraid of magic… Maybe he was finally losing his grip on reality.

Their various attempts to make him see, to make him realize that he pushed those sorted into Slytherin into their actions against him because they saw no other way, had not worked. And they were unable to tell him about their knowledge, bound to never tell what they learned about the students to anyone. Only the Headmaster could get some of the information, should he ever ask. But Albus never had done, and probably never would. He sent them to spy and send word, never asking for their advice or further knowledge. In fact he seemed rather miffed every time one of them offered advice out of their own volition.

"Oh, Albus. I wish you would talk with someone about your troubles." She feared it was already too late, she could only hope he would not cause any more damage until he was removed from his position.

oooOOooo

When the floo in the staff room at Hogwarts had flared, Severus had listened with mounting horror to the short message the Auror had relayed to the Head of Gryffindor because the guardian of a Gryffindor student had been almost fatally injured and the boy should get the opportunity to visit with the man.

Severus had not known what his Lord had had planned for that day, but as soon as Minerva was gone and their meeting postponed, Severus went to his quarters to ask Lucius about this, or inform him as the case might be.

Now that he knew his Lord would be fine in just a few days' time, Severus had continued with his plans he had made days before. So now he was standing in a small, tastefully decorated jeweller's shop/workshop combination, inspecting various rings.

The bell over the door chimed a silly little melody as the door opened to admit another customer. "Call for me when you've found what you're looking for, Master Snape," the jeweller said, turning to go over to the door, pleasantly greeting the newly arrived patron.

Glad that the hovering presence was gone, Severus concentrated on the different bands of metal in the small tray of black velvet.

To reduce the mass of rings he had to choose from – Lucius' recommendation about the large variety to choose from here had been accurate – Severus had named his most important criterion to the artisan: a smooth surface. So there were no flashy stones protruding from the rings, or intricate designs that could catch on anything. But there still were too many different ones. Gold, silver, platinum, electrum, iron, copper, rose-gold… with and without small gems embedded… alone or combined… He would have to add a few criteria to narrow down the possibilities further.

Sonja worked with potions ingredients, would likely work alongside him once they were married, and if she didn't want to have to take the ring off every day – as he guessed would be the case – the material was as important as the practical form. So silver was out, as were all gold variants. To soft for constant wear, and used in potions because of their properties. Sorting the rings to exclude all those containing silver and/or gold, Severus contemplated the different metals there were and which of those were not used in any potions, or at least not any of the common ones.

Titanium. Yes, titanium should work just fine. There were several titanium rings on the tray, some even treated in such a way that they displayed a different colour than the silver sheen most of them had. One in particular caught Severus' attention. It seemed like several strands of metal had been woven around each other, taking on the appearance of vines or roots winding around each other, two small diamonds had been set into the vines, twinkling up at him. And still the surface was smooth as glass, the visible structure was not evident to his touch, and there was no magic inside the ring.

It was beautiful, practical for someone working with potions, and something unusual. He had found the ring he would get for his Sonja.

"I have found what I have been searching for," the Potions Master called out to the owner of the shop, moving his chosen ring off to the side, before he looked up over to where the man was standing.

As soon as he saw the other customer, Severus started to swear in his head. Doge was standing there with an old dented pocket watch in his hand – probably to get it repaired – and looked shocked to see Severus Snape there buying a ring too small to fit on Severus' own hand.

So he clearly was buying the ring for someone else. And jewellery this expensive was not something one would get for just anyone. Hastily finishing his purchase, Severus left the shop as fast as he could manage. He probably should give the ring to Sonja this evening and ask her if she was willing to be openly associated with him from now on. If she was not, he would have to find something to tell the Headmaster. If she was, on the other hand… he would be only too happy to tell the old meddler that he had found a woman he loved, a woman he would marry and have a family with. That probably would send the old Headmaster into confusion, after all, he was still convinced that Severus was so burdened down with guilt that he could not see himself in a relationship with anyone. That had been accurate a few months ago, but no longer.

With a smirk Severus walked down the street, his robes billowing behind him, searching for a place he could apparate from so he could visit with Sonja and her father, before Doge had time to go to the Headmaster and inform him of what he had seen this evening.

oooOOooo

AN: A few people commented that I was slipping into the "trap" of bashing Dumbledore. And I realized that not one of the regular characters was in a position to let you know what is behind Dumbledore's actions. It was clear as day in my head, but never made it into the story, because no one had the needed insight. I hope the solution I found worked out well :)
And I promise to get into Marvolo's and Harry's reactions to that scene at the hospital in the next chapter. It will require space to do so properly ;)

Maybe I should work on writing action scenes… that part was rather hard to write. I need practice.

* Gill or Ghyll is a ravine or narrow valley in the North of England and other parts of the United Kingdom. The word originates from the Old Norse "Gil," according to Wikipedia. I had to search for a word describing a steep and narrow cut into the landscape. I think this one fits rather well, but it seems to not be a common word, so Jodre and Jake recommended that I provide an explanation.

Thanks to Jordre and Jake for helping to improve my spelling!
And for farawisa's help in keeping the facts straight. The story is getting big :D

First published on the 24th of March 2017

Next chapter planned for 7th of April 2017