On Archive of Our Own
On Twisting the Hellmouth
IV: Muggle-Borns Under The Bed
The Leaky Cauldron was quiet for a Friday evening. Not surprising with Death Eaters on the prowl, of course, and so many Muggle-borns in hiding, but definitely not good for business. Tom wiped out a few glasses and thought about 6 Down in the Prophet's weekend crossword: "Monster King of Serpents (8)" It wasn't Anaconda, which would have otherwise been his first guess, the second letter was A, and King Cobra was too long and two words. Care of Magical Creatures had never been his best subject. Best to leave it for now. 12 Across, "Liquid Luck (5,7)" was pretty obviously Felix Felicis and gave him I as the sixth letter in 6 Down... Basilisk, of course.
The street door opened, and Tom looked up to see a statuesque blonde in a dark green hooded cloak, a stranger he didn't recognize. She nodded to him without speaking then went straight through to the back courtyard. Glancing out, Tom was surprised that she simply touched a finger to the wall, rather than using a wand, and that the opening to Diagon Alley immediately appeared.
"I'd like to send an owl, please."
The Owl Post counter clerk didn't look up from the ledger he was writing. "Inland or overseas?"
"Letter or parcel?"
"Just a letter."
"That'll be two Sickles for the standard service, three for express delivery."
"What's the difference?"
"Express goes to the nearest post office by floo then gets owled from there. We guarantee next day delivery."
"Express then, I think."
"No thank you."
"Under the current emergency regulations I'm required to take your name and warn you that messages may be checked by the authorities. Howlers are not permitted."
"Thank you." The blonde handed him three Sickles and a sealed scroll. "Severus Snape, Hogwarts School please."
He noted the destination in a ledger. "Sign here please, miss."
She scrawled "A. Nonymous" illegibly. The clerk turned to drop the scroll into the bag for the Hogsmeade post office, by the time he looked back she was gone.
"What's your ladyship doing out in the alley at this time of an evening?"
The blonde looked up, annoyed. She was nearly back at the Cauldron, and wanted to be gone fairly quickly. "None of your business." There were three men, all in robes, only the speaker had his wand drawn. Probably not Death Eaters, more likely thugs taking advantage of the current climate of fear.
"We'll be the judges of that. Now then, let's see some gol.. awwwk!" She grabbed him by his wand hand, crushing fingers and twisting it towards his partners, snatched his wand from his hand, and punched him in the chest. He fell to the cobbles, wheezing, as the others fumbled for their wands. Five seconds later another joined him on the ground, his wand snapped, as the last man turned and ran. The blonde snatched up a bottle from the gutter and threw it; it hit the back of his head and he fell, unconscious.
"Useless idiots." She thought about snapping the wand she'd taken but decided that it might be useful if she needed to pretend to be a witch again. As she went back into the Leaky Cauldron the first hags appeared from the shadows and began to relieve the groaning wizards of their money and valuables, to be followed by various internal organs if the Aurors didn't arrive first.
Ten minutes later, reasonably sure that nobody was watching, the blonde entered one of the listening booths in the Virgin Megastore at Oxford Circus. She turned so that nobody could see her face or hair and listened to the number one hit, Will Smith's Men in Black, as Hermione's polyjuice potion wore off and her own face and dark hair reappeared, then took off the cloak and dropped it into a capacious shopping bag. If anyone went looking for the blonde they'd be out of luck, it was more than a thousand years since Hippolyta had last ventured into the World of Men. Diana still had some of her hair in a locket if she ever needed the disguise again. On her way out Diana bought the CD and a couple of others, then took the tube to Notting Hill, walked a mile or so in a roundabout route, then got a taxi back to the Hilton on Park Lane. She was reasonably sure that nobody had tried to follow her, but it never hurt to take a few simple precautions.
She decided to get an early night before the funeral, but called Paris first. Hermione picked up the phone with a cautious "Allô, qui est là?" as they'd agreed. In the background Diana could hear familiar music.
"It's Diana. Everything all right?"
"Fine - We're introducing Ron to James Bond and pepperoni pizza. He likes both, I think. By the way, I love your laserdisc player, it's much better than videotape."
"The sound and picture quality are definitely an improvement, though I'll probably switch to DVD once more disks are available, you should be able to watch most films without changing sides."
"Maybe I'll wait for that then. How did everything go?"
Diana didn't want to get too specific. "No problems I couldn't handle, he ought to get the message tomorrow. Relax and try not to make too much mess, I'll be back on Sunday evening."
"Okay. Thanks again for letting us stay."
"You're welcome. And try to eat some fruit and vegetables, pizza is not a balanced diet. There's plenty in the refrigerator and the larder."
"Don't worry, I've got that covered for tomorrow, I just thought a bit of a treat would be nice."
"You're probably right. I'd better get on, tomorrow is going to be a long day and I need to get some sleep. Enjoy the rest of the film."
Severus Snape worked his way through the usual pile of paperwork that came with the job of headmaster, even at the weekends. The senior staff had done a lot of the work for Dumbledore, but only a week into the new term it felt like they were going out of their way to make things difficult for him. Most of them wanted to revive the old house system, the new teachers imposed by the Dark Lord were so busy handing out punishments that course work was already slipping, and Slughorn was a perpetual nuisance, trying to start up his ridiculous Slug Club again and whining about potions room safety. The old headmasters' portraits that should have advised him were rarely helpful, they seemed to be obsessed with issues made obsolete by the current political climate. Even the governors were being a nuisance. Malfoy had been bad enough when the Dark Lord was out of favour, wanting all school contracts to go to his cronies, now they were supplying sub-standard goods and inflating prices. Unless things improved quickly his potions work for the Dark Lord would start to slip, the consequences didn't bear thinking about.
The morning post arrived with the Daily Prophet and a dozen or so scrolls. The Prophet was drearily predictable, of course; more "Muggle-Borns under the bed" scare stories, this time adding some extra spin suggesting that any witch or wizard seen in mourning might be a Mudblood follower of the so-called Princess Diana, and saying that Aurors would be watching out for attempts by Undesirable Number One or Two to attend the funeral. Personally Snape doubted that Potter even knew who the Princess of Wales was, his ignorance of most subjects was astonishing, but it was always possible that Granger might take an interest.
Even this early in the term the letters were the usual mix of special pleading for students with low marks or high detention levels, cronyism, belated correspondence for Dumbledore, and one attempt at mail fraud - he really doubted that the Minister of Finance for the Nigerian Magical Assembly wanted to move 668,821 Galleons out of the country via Hogwarts' vaults, and needed the transaction fees up front. And near the bottom of the pile:
I think we've made some progress figuring out what Dumbledore meant to do about Voldemort. Tell Voldie he'll need to be on his toes. I'll be in touch.
Snape ran some basic tracing spells on the parchment and found nothing useful. Sent by the public owl post from Diagon Alley, someone might be sent there to investigate. The seal had been undamaged when he opened it, and there was nothing to suggest it had been read, but he wasn't going to try to fool himself into believing that the Dark Lord was unaware of the contents, it would be like him to let it go through as a test of Snape's loyalty. He wondered at the tone of Potter's message. It was provocative but revealed very little, he had a feeling that Hermione had probably edited it. It might be a fishing expedition, an attempt to find out Voldemort's plans or gauge his own loyalties.
Best take it on its own merits. There was really only one viable course of action; he wrote a note requesting an audience with the Dark Lord, opened a floo connection, and threw it through. He knew better than to floo call or walk through to Malfoy Manor unnanounced. Voldemort would summon him when he was ready. Later, when he knew the Dark Lord's reaction, he'd talk to Dumbledore's portrait. After recovering from the inevitable Cruciatus spells, of course...
"It's half past ten in Britain," said Harry, "Snape should have had the morning post by now."
Hermione watched the TV, showing the funeral guests entering Westminster Abbey. "Even if he has, it'll probably take at least a couple of hours for him to see Riddle, and longer before we can get a reaction."
"I think we should get set up anyway."
"Not yet, I'm still trying to see if Pius Thicknesse is there, or someone else from the Ministry. If there's nobody it might mean that they're breaking off relations with the Muggles completely. If there is someone there it might tell us something useful about the current Ministry, and.... oh Merlin, what the hell is she wearing?"
"It's Umbridge! There, in the queue right behind whats-his-face, the guy who presents that arts programme on BBC2, looking like she's been sucking lemons all morning!"
Harry stared. "Oh good grief!"
"At least she's wearing black, but she's still got that stupid bow and handbag. I think she just cast a colour-change spell on one of her usual outfits. Look who's with her!"
"Ron, you're going to want to see this!"
"Blackmail material! It's Percy, and he's practically kissing Umbridge's arse!"
Ron took a look and swore. "Any way to get a photo, Hermione?"
"Could she do anything to disrupt the funeral?" asked Harry.
"Nothing too overt, not without breaking the Statute of Secrecy, and even Umbridge isn't that stupid, at least I hope not. There's nothing we can do about it from here anyway."
"I wonder if she'll be sitting anywhere near Diana."
"They ought to show the interior of the Abbey again soon, we'll see."
The camera switched back to the funeral cortège on its way toward the Abbey, followed by a procession of five hundred mourners, with silent crowds lining the streets. "Merlin, that's a lot of people."
"That's just the tip of the iceberg. This is being shown live all over the world, there must be a couple of billion people watching."
In the Dreaming, Morpheus stared into a mirror, which reflected Death. "You were right, my sister."
"Planning to do anything about it?"
"A little protection, I think. There's unrest amongst the wizards, any accidents at this stage would be unfortunate. I've sent Matthew to keep an eye on things for now, pending a more effective deterrent."
"Thank you. It will be good to have the Prodigal back."
Will Smith's Men in Black was the UK number 1 music single in the week of August 31st 1997. At that point DVD was a recent introduction, with disks expensive and unavailable for many films; videotape was still popular and 12" laserdiscs were the leading high-quality video format, but their manufacturing and distribution costs, weight, bulkiness, and limited capacity meant that they went obsolete fast once DVD took off.
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