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The Dens of Snakes

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After all the excitement with Quirrelmort, things returned mostly to normal, at Hogwarts and elsewhere. 


Hermione, being Hermione, passed her end-of-year exams with flying colours, though it cost her a nearly-sleepless week of panic. After that she slept for most of two days, and then Jarek (rolling his eyes) dragged her outside. Ostensibly they were watching Viktor win games of pick-up Quidditch while spectacularly outnumbered, but as Jarek wasn't much more of a fan of broomsticks than Hermione, they mostly played chess and enjoyed the cool onset of Norwegian summer. Chess, Hermione had found, was an unusually engaging pursuit when your chess pieces didn't speak the same native language you did (the ones she was borrowing from Viktor, of course, were Bulgarian).

Headmaster Karkaroff altered her end-of-year score report to give Muggle names for her subjects, so that she could show it to her parents; then she took a Portkey home and waited for her parents at the train station, quite as if she'd just taken a train there. It was still really weird, and horrible, that she was lying outright to her parents, but Hermione had trained herself not to think about it. It's this or not learn magic at all, she told herself sternly. And if I don't learn magic, I'll probably get murdered. So I have to learn magic. And that was that, really.

(Her summer, plus or minus some peculiar interruptions, was occupied almost entirely by studying her secondhand, magically repaired Muggle textbooks. She would, after all, need to be prepared for her O-Levels in a few years; her parents would expect nothing less.)

Elsewhere, Ron and Neville found to their delight and relief that all six of the Gryffindors in their year had passed their exams with surprisingly good grades (Percy gave them a sarcastic comment or three in the general vein of "There's a reason people study, yes"). Neville spent most of the train ride home staring incredulously at his scores, which notably included a 102% Herbology mark, while everyone else argued around him about whether Ron had been given extra credit on his Defense exam for his adventure. Six in a compartment was a sensible number, and they were all friends now, for all that they had little in common. No one wanted to play the ostracization game anymore.

Parvati and Lavender made arrangements to visit one another over the summer, and everyone else exchanged assorted promises to write. Dean and Lavender, who both lived in Muggle houses, exchanged phone numbers, to the puzzled fascination of the rest of the compartment. After some extensive interrogation and counter-interrogation, it was concluded that "Fellytones are sort of like Floo, then!", and everyone giggled for assorted reasons and moved on.

And they all went home from Hogwarts, a little less childish than they had arrived.

Percy got his perfect OWLs, to absolutely no one's surprise (eleven of them, every subject but Divination). Oliver, who'd only passed Charms, Transfiguration, and Astronomy (he didn't particularly care about anything else), oscillated between congratulations and merciless teasing right up until they boarded the train, to the general amusement of everyone in the vicinity including Percy. Percy would probably normally have been more annoyed, but he was in too good a mood for his best friend's antics to even dent his cheer. He'd heard a rumour that the OWL examination board was going to start keeping exam results until a few weeks into the summer holiday, and he could hardly imagine having to wait so long.

"Swot," Oliver said affectionately, when Percy expressed this concern. Percy rolled his eyes. Their endless argument did not continue for the rest of the train ride, however, because Percy went to the prefects' meeting and failed entirely to return.

(A paranoid individual might have been concerned about this. Oliver, however, knew perfectly well that Percy was involved with a certain blonde Ravenclaw prefect. He also knew that if he mentioned it to the twins - or, for that matter, to anyone who might potentially tell the twins - he would get hexed into next century; so he sat and played Snap with Angelina and Alicia and grinned to himself, and said nothing.)

Augusta Longbottom had tea on alternate Sundays with Minerva McGonagall, a tradition faithfully maintained since they had graduated Hogwarts together (probably the last Slytherin/Gryffindor friendship to escape the building unscathed, sadly), so she already knew some of what had happened over the year with her grandson.

Minerva had told her, with some fascination, all about the transformation of the Gryffindor first years in the wake of Hermione Granger's departure. They had begun as a fragmented bunch of slackers who didn't get along, and by Christmas they had mutated into a stable, successful mutual support system. That mutual support system, astonishingly, had gotten them through their first-year exams with a higher class average than Minerva said she had seen in her House since the class-of-only-one-student that was grim Jonathan Fawley, who'd graduated in the spring of 1983.

Even having been so warned, Augusta could not help but be a little startled to see Neville smiling brightly as he bid his friends a good summer, and holding his exam scores in a way that suggested he was not ashamed of them. His smile went away quickly when his friends left, and he still stammered when he spoke, and she saw him jump like a frightened rabbit when someone jostled him accidentally; but progress was progress, she supposed.

Theodore Nott bid a vague farewell to his various classmates, or more accurately to Draco. Daphne was a girl even if she didn't have any brothers and would inherit her father's wealth, and the rest of the House were basically all Draco's minions. So Draco was the only one that mattered, really. Then he picked up his trunk and paced off quietly. He bowed politely to his father, ignoring the rush of other children jumping into their parents' arms (purebloods do not hug each other in public, ugh). Sensibly enough, Theo was expecting to be asked about his year. What he was not expecting was to be greeted by a rather alarming glower.

"Er - " he began hesitantly, almost instinctively stepping backwards again, frightened.

"Move," snapped old Jarred Nott, a command which pulled Theo into arm's reach as sharply as if he'd been Summoned. His father had never been particularly warm and supportive as a parent, and age (he was a contemporary of Abraxas Malfoy) had not helped; still, Theo wasn't used to this level of irritation. His father was angry about something.

He didn't get to ask until he was done coughing unhappily and trying not to vomit; practice didn't make Side-Along-Apparition significantly less unpleasant, at twelve. A house-elf handed him a cup of tea, and he drank it gratefully, leaning against the banister of the grand staircase while his father paced around looking angry. After that, he spent about five minutes trying to locate his courage (there was a reason the Sorting Hat had not offered him Gryffindor, he thought wryly). Then Theo said cautiously, "Father, what is wrong?"

What followed was an extended rant on several disparate subjects, all of which were contributing to his father's bad mood. He'd had to have his ring reforged three times since Halloween, he kept melting the bloody thing; Gringotts was refusing to perform the ennoblement ceremony even though all of the Potters (may they rest in eternal torment) had been dead for ten years, and it was ridiculous, because the Notts had more money than half the Noble Houses and Jarred was tired of Lord Greengrass making subtle jabs at his lack of title; speaking of which, bloody Greengrass was still refusing marriage contracts for his daughters to everyone, even the Malfoys; and he couldn't even complain about any of these things to Abraxas and Arcturus, because they were both ridiculously contagious with dragonpox and no one was allowed near them, which was probably Cassie's fault -

(Theo had hesitantly interjected at this point, lost, to ask who Cassie was, since he knew that Lord Arcturus Black's wife had been named Melania, and moreover was dead; his father had clarified that he was referring to Cassiopeia Black, Arcturus's cousin, who invented curses as a hobby and as a rule could be categorically blamed for all catastrophic magical incidents which even tangentially involved any Blacks)

- and furthermore Lucius Malfoy was extremely smug because he knew he was about to inherit and it sort of made Jarred want to hit him repeatedly with Bone-Shattering Hexes until he shut up, which was a problem because Lucius was his nephew and that was not a sensible thing to be doing to people you were related to; and Arthur Weasley was actually getting a great deal of support for his stupid Muggle Protection Act, which was ridiculous and he would just assassinate the filthy Muggle-loving blood traitor if Ignatius Prewett wouldn't probably get him arrested; and speaking of Prewett, he's probably sleeping with Cassie and that was just unutterably irritating because you can't call scandal properly on Cassie Black, it's just not physically possible, you end up dangling over the side of a volcano somewhere pondering your life choices -

(Theo didn't like that mental image at all, but it was significantly preferable to picturing anything involving sex and Ignatius Prewett, who was pushing ninety, so he refrained from commenting)

- and on top of all of that, he'd just gotten a letter from the Potions master at Durmstrang, congratulating him on the performance of his cousin's granddaughter, who had apparently placed in the top of her class on her third-year exams, which was ridiculous, because his cousin was dead and all his cousins' kids were dead and he had not at any point been informed that there was a kid going to Durmstrang, and nevertheless he had felt a sort of pride, and really, everything was ridiculous and no, he wasn't angry at Theo in particular, he just wished Theo wasn't twelve because that was really too young to be expected to deal with any of this. 

Theo had absorbed all that, and said, "Well - that last one we can deal with, right? Write to the kid and find out what's going on?" It would be cool to have a cousin at Durmstrang. Or ... whatever you would call your dad's cousin's granddaughter. Cousin once removed? Whatever.

Jarred Nott took a deep breath. "Yes," he said, "yes, we can do that."

"Mail for you, Dean," said his mother, handing him an envelope in exchange for the plate of toast he'd just handed her.

It was neatly addressed, 

Ronald Weasley, c/o Dean Thomas, followed by their address. Dean was glad, suddenly, that he'd remember to put a return address on the letter he'd mailed for Ron. So he called Lavender. "Hey, Hermione wrote Ron back, do you have any idea how to hire a post owl?" he asked once he'd got hold of her, and gone through the ritual exchange of small talk and how's your summer going?s.

"Um ... I think Gringotts will do it?" Lavender offered. "I remember seeing a sign for that when we were exchanging money, I think."

So he'd caught a bus, when he had a spare Saturday, and paid the goblins a Sickle to mail the letter to the Burrow.

June 28, 1992

Mr. Weasley,

An apology does me no good, you know. It cannot convince my parents to allow me to return to Hogwarts. I do not think I would even want to return, were I allowed; if nothing else, being forced to find a different school has at least provided me with classmates more pleasant than you.

Still, thank you.

Hermione J. Granger

(When Ron received this letter, he stared at it for a long time.)

June 30, 1992

Miss Hermione Nott:

It has recently come to my attention that I and my son are not the only living members of the House of Nott, but that we also count you - descended of my late cousin Alfred - among our number. I congratulate you on your apparently-excellent academic performance at Durmstrang Institute, but I must say that I am deeply offended that you have not previously seen fit to inform me of your existence. As head of your House I insist that you attend us at the Nott Estate in Bristol, at tea-time on the 5th of July (this coming Sunday), to enlighten us as to your history.

I expect to see you then.

Jarred Nott, patriarch of the House of Nott

Hermione very nearly panicked when she read the letter from Jarred Nott, which had been delivered by a cruel-beaked, sharp-taloned owl that looked deeply offended by her failure to offer it an owl treat, despite the fact that she did not in fact own an owl and did not have any owl treats. Fortunately, it flew off before she could determine whether she was supposed to write a response, and she decided it probably would be best not to. That hadn't been an invitation so much as an orderso a response seemed almost redundant.

She spent the next several hours fabricating a story involving one of her professors, visiting from Germany on research, inviting her to tea, which she delivered to her parents with her fingers crossed that they wouldn't demand to meet the professor in question. Fortunately, they were quite convinced of the acceptability of Durmstrang Institute after their meeting with Headmaster Karkaroff the previous winter, and having now seen her return home entirely unharmed with good grades.

The next source of panic would naturally have been how to get there, but fortunately, Hermione had already spent a considerable amount of time, after her unpleasant first experience with Portkeys, researching magical travel in Britain and elsewhere. So that Sunday, she summoned the Knight Bus, and politely asked it to take her to the Nott Estate in Bristol. The driver made her repeat this several times before he believed her; evidently delivering children to pureblood mansions was not something they were typically called upon to do. But they could do it, and she paid them in Sickles left over from the previous winter's shopping for books in Diagon Alley, and she clung to a wall and rehearsed her story in her head.

Theo paced around by the door; it was polite to answer in person for anyone who even remotely mattered, after all. His father was waiting in the sitting room, reading genealogy books and muttering to himself. Theo, meanwhile, was endlessly curious about this mysterious cousin from Durmstrang. Hopefully she'd be like Daphne - dignified and intelligent. She had to be intelligent, if she was doing so well in her classes, right? But then she could also be like Tracey, who was brilliant but sort of unpleasant to be around, thanks to her extremely annoying habit of correcting everyone's grammar all the time.

Merlin forbid she was anything like the rest of the Slytherin girls, who followed Pansy around like little ducklings, hanging on her every word just because she'd told them she was probably going to marry Draco, which wasn't even true, it wasn't like they had a proper contract or anything. Nobody did, the Greengrasses had thrown off the whole system because nobody that was anybody wanted to sign anything until they knew who was going to get Daphne and Astoria. They were unquestionably at the top of the list, especially now that Susan Bones had been confirmed for blood-traitor (she'd been hanging around with Muggleborns, even though she even had Ernie Macmillan in Hufflepuff with her). Ugh, everything was a mess.

Considering this train of thought, it is not entirely shocking that when he opened the door and encountered Hermione Granger, Theo jumped about a foot and made a rather undignified high-pitched yelping noise. Granger was a Muggleborn, from Gryffindor, she was the one who'd gotten withdrawn after the Troll Incident on Halloween, and Slytherin had celebrated because she'd spent the first two months of school showing them up in all their classes and they'd all hated her, she was definitely not related to him! "What the bloody he - "

Granger took several very rapid steps and got very close to him. "Mister Nott," she said quietly, and very seriously, "I have recently earned a higher than perfect score in the third-year examination for Battle Magic at Durmstrang Institute by successfully performing a class-four Immolation Curse. I do not mean you or your father any harm, and I have no intention whatsoever of even slightly inconveniencing you. All I want is to continue attending school, if you are so spectacularly stupid as to ruin that for me, you will not enjoy my revenge. Is that clear?"

Theo's mouth, previously prepared to spew a large number of insults followed by a demand that she cease her use of his family name immediately, snapped quite firmly shut. He'd grown up with ex-Death Eaters making up a large percentage of his social circle; he knew a credible threat when he saw one. He could tell his father, get her expelled from Durmstrang. She'd probably even get killed in short order if he did that, because nobody cared what happened to Muggleborns, especially not ones that didn't even go to Hogwarts. But he knew enough to know that Immolation Curses of class three and higher were conditional; you could cast them some time in advance, and trigger them without a wand or without even being anywhere near the person.

If she wasn't lying (which she wasn't showing any signs of), and she wasn't stupid (which he had been forced to admit, sometime last September, that she was not), she'd probably already cast it on him. Which meant that getting her killed would probably get him killed.

So he nodded.

Granger - Hermione, he'd have to call her by her bloody first name if she was going to use Nott for a surname - smiled brightly, quite as if she had not just threatened him with a curse he was fairly certain was illegal in Britain and some 38 other countries. She looked so pleased with herself, it was exactly that same stupid grin that she got when she answered a question perfectly in Potions, and there was no Professor Snape here to wipe it off her face by taking away points for being annoying. He was going to get her back for this. He was. Just ... not right now. Because right now she was scary.

(He sort of wished he'd gone to Durmstrang. If it could make her scary, it was doing something right.)

In August of 1992, three of the eldest fixtures of the pureblood community died of dragonpox: Lord Abraxas Malfoy, Lord Arcturus Black, and Cassiopeia Black. There were huge articles about it in every newspaper, in which everyone competed to sound sufficiently sympathetic that none of the nobles would hex them senseless.

The transfer of power in the Malfoy family was smooth and barely noticeable; Lucius Malfoy took over for his father, and organized the funeral, and it was business as usual from there. They weren't significantly different people, as far as most people were concerned. The bigger concern, among the Noble families, was the House of Black. The only one of Arcturus' direct descendants still alive was Sirius Black, currently in Azkaban for a life sentence. This implied that power defaulted to the next line over, Cassie's brother's descendants - which was just Bellatrix Lestrange (also in Azkaban), Andromeda Tonks (disowned), and Narcissa Malfoy, in that order.

A spectacular legal battle immediately sprung into existence between Andromeda Tonks and Narcissa Malfoy, on account of the somewhat unclear rules about informal disowning and inheritance. This immediately generated a flurry of arguments between the blood purists and their opponents about whether it was remotely acceptable that Andromeda had been burned off the family tapestry for marrying Ted Tonks. That dragged Arthur Weasley's Muggle Protection Act into the spotlight, since one of its major components was a provision for the legal recognition of Muggle parents of magical children as being actually, y'know, people, and of course that horribly offended all the blood purists, and everything got even more complicated.

Then Lucius Malfoy and Arthur Weasley got into a fist-fight in Flourish & Blotts, and somebody got pictures, and then that was all over the Daily Prophet. The subsequent scramble on all sides to downplay this event buried the original problem under enormous amounts of paperwork. After several months of politicians yelling at each other, in early August's Wizengamot session, Lord Edward Greengrass dryly suggested that maybe they should just ask Sirius Black, who technically was Lord Black even though he was in prison. This suggestion garnered universal agreement and much sage nodding (yes, of course, we should have thought of that).

Andromeda and Narcissa exchanged extremely awkward glances. Andromeda didn't want to talk to Sirius because he'd betrayed the Potters; Narcissa didn't want to talk to Sirius because he'd personally killed several of her Hogwarts classmates during the War. Neither of them felt even slightly confident that he'd be receptive to that sort of inquiry.

"That's interesting," said the smirking Unspeakable. Eventually someone made a formal request that the Aurors ask, and in the middle of August, DMLE Director Amelia Bones personally walked down into the bowels of Azkaban to inquire.

"Black," she snapped, kicking the bars of his cell. The metal rang oddly in the Dementor-iced air; it was still cold down here, even though the Dementors were avoiding the shining silver light given off by Director Bones' Patronus.

Sirius looked up, eyes slightly unfocused, from where he'd been staring at an apparently arbitrary section of wall. "What?" His voice was scratchy with dust and disuse.

"Formal request," she said, ignoring the desire to punch him repeatedly until he died (you were the spy, they trusted you, Edgar and Helen died because of you), "that you decide who is to act as regent of the House of Black, which you cannot head while serving a life sentence."

Sirius blinked a few times. Then he rasped, "I take it my grandfather is dead, then."

"Obviously. Forgive me if I do not mourn."

An odd expression crossed his face; Amelia had trouble identifying it. Sirius asked, "I can pick anybody?" Yes; technically, it didn't even need to be a blood relative. Amelia had been given the request in terms of "pick between Narcissa and Andromeda", but legally that wasn't actually the question. (And she was nothing if not compliant with the law.) She nodded. Sirius considered that.

He seemed, oddly, to be functioning relatively normally, if slowly. People usually went crazy down here within five years ... but Sirius had already been crazy. She'd been present when he was dragged in here ten years ago, laughing hysterically and flinging around wandless blasting curses. The curses had stopped when he'd got into proximity of the dementors - he likely wouldn't be capable now even if he were released - but the laughter hadn't. It haunted her, occasionally.

The laughter was gone now, drained out of him like the blood that failed to warm his pale skin. Sirius said, "Andromeda, then."

Amelia blinked. She had genuinely been expecting Sirius to name a Death Eater - or, cough, an ex-Death Eater, one of those who'd been "Imperiused" - or at least Narcissa, who was married to one. Why Andromeda? Oh, well, not her problem. She had her answer and she could go, far away from the reminder that Susan was orphaned because someone from the Order had given Edgar's schedule to the Death Eaters, because Edgar had trusted the wrong person, just like James and Lily Potter had. "Right. Thanks."

She was about to turn and go when Sirius spoke again. "Don't suppose you could get me a drink or something?" he said, his voice strained but somehow still weirdly flippant. Like he thought he deserved to pretend to be James Potter. "All I ever get is water."

(Little brother, little brother, why you, Susan would have loved you so much.) "Go to hell," spat Amelia, and she turned and left. As fast as she could walk without running, because she didn't want to hear him talk anymore. Not another word. It didn't work, though. Over the sound of her boots clicking on the stone, the prisoners groaning and whining around her, the whistle of the wind, she could still hear his answer.

"I'm already there!"