A/N: Several people have pointed out that, technically, the Weasleys are cousins of Harry's as well. (Cedrella Black was Dorea's cousin, which would make James Potter and Arthur Weasley second-cousins, which would make Harry Potter and Ron Weasley third-cousins.) This is true, but Cedrella Black was disowned for marrying Septimus Weasley. That's far enough back that Hermione might not be aware of the relationship, or Harry and Ron are such distant cousins that she might not really think about it. You have to remember that (in this AU world that I made up) Pollux, Cassiopeia and Dorea were all siblings, and that Draco, Hermione, and Harry all descend from them. [Pollux, Cassiopeia and Dorea are siblings in Canon. Harry has never been officially confirmed as her grandson.]
Deaths: So far, all the deaths I've written about have been canon. The impetus for Cassiopeia's radical decision to adopt Hermione was the combined deaths of Orion and Regulus in 1979. Walburga died in 1985. Pollux died in 1990. So it isn't that I'm on some mad killing spree. This is canon, people. Blame JKR.
Beta Adulation: Despite real life and a crazy-busy schedule, Auntie_L still found the time to beta this chapter. I love her so hard. She deserves a big cup of (beverage of choice) and huge hugs. I'm mentally sending them to her.
"What do you think I should do?" Cassiopeia asked.
Griselda Marchbanks frowned and took a sip of her Firewhisky.
"You didn't see the boy," Augusta added with a dark frown. "He was thin, wearing what appeared to be hand-me-down clothes from someone far bigger than him, and every time Cassiopeia or I stepped in the room he grew tense; as though he were waiting for something to happen."
"I've been arguing with Dumbledore for eleven years, and it's gotten me nowhere," Cassiopeia added acerbically.
"What if the Muggles were gone?" Griselda asked with a thoughtful expression.
Cassiopeia blinked. "Gone?"
Despite her family's reputation, it hadn't occurred to Cassiopeia to kill the Dursleys—although by the time Christmas break had come to an end, she had thought about torturing them just a little. Still, the idea had merit.
"Well, no longer there," Griselda amended. "What if they moved away, and left no forwarding address? Dumbledore wouldn't have much of a choice then, now would he?"
"That's not a bad idea," Augusta said with a speculative gleam in her eyes. "If they moved to a foreign country, then Dumbledore definitely wouldn't want young Potter to live with them. He wouldn't be able to go to Hogwarts—he'd have to go to the local magical school."
"What about Russia?" Griselda suggested.
Cassiopeia shook her head. "No, I doubt they speak Russian. It would have to be somewhere that spoke English."
"Canada?" Augusta offered. "I have a cousin there that might be able to keep an eye on them."
"Too close," Cassiopeia said with a shake of her head. "I need to lose the Dursleys but good. Maybe we could add in some memory altering charms so that they don't remember they've got a nephew."
"And change their surnames as well?" Griselda added with a nod. "Do a memory charm, find them a home and a job, move them away. That should work quite well."
"There is one other problem, as I understand it," Cassiopeia said grimly. "Dumbledore installed Arabella Figg in the neighborhood. Her job has been to watch over Harry, I believe, and report to Dumbledore."
"How in Merlin's name did you discover that?" Griselda demanded.
Cassiopeia scowled at Griselda. "I overheard Harry speaking to Hermione when they were making Christmas cookies. He told her that the only time he got sweets was when he went to Ms. Figg's house. Arabella is the only Figg I know that would be able to live in a Muggle neighborhood."
"Could it be a Muggle?" Augusta asked cautiously.
Cassiopeia shook her head. "No. She's breeding kneazles. Harry doesn't realize that's what they are, but from his descriptions… they're definitely kneazles, and it's definitely Arabella Figg."
"What should we do with her?" Augusta frowned. "If she knew about how that boy had been treated…"
"What could she have done?" Griselda snorted. "Written Dumbledore? I'm sure she has. I remember little Arabella. If only she'd had magic, she would've been a Hufflepuff for sure. It must kill her to see how that poor boy has been treated."
"We could do the same thing," Cassiopeia suggested. "Only we'll find her a nice little holiday home somewhere. Oh! I think we have a small holiday home somewhere in the Caribbean."
Griselda nodded. "That sounds nice. I think Arabella would like that."
"So Arabella's taken care of," Cassiopeia said with a decisive air. "That just leaves the Dursleys."
"What about Australia?" Augusta asked.
Cassiopeia nodded slowly. "Australia… it's perfect," she agreed.
It was impossible to do everything that needed to be done without actually visiting the Dursleys, as much as one might wish otherwise. In the end, Augusta and Griselda decided to accompany Cassiopeia, which was probably for the best. If Cassiopeia had gone by herself, it was entirely likely that she would have killed Petunia and Vernon Dursley.
Just in case, the three women had visited Arabella Figg first, and had quickly Obliviated her, packed her home, moved her and all of her kneazles, and settled her into her new little holiday cottage under the name Artemesia Bellweather.
If Harry hadn't come and stayed for the Christmas holiday, if Cassiopeia hadn't seen for herself how starved the boy was for any scrap of family—no other 11 year old she knew would willingly sit and pore over family albums for hours on end with a happy smile—then she might not have noticed the glaring absence of Harry on the Dursley family's walls. There were no pictures. There were no school awards with Harry's name. He wasn't in any of the family photographs. There was nothing to indicate that Harry lived here at all.
"You are the aunt and uncle of Harry Potter, are you not?" Cassiopeia demanded. Had she misunderstood Harry?
Petunia's lip curled and Vernon flushed red.
"How dare you mention that… that freak," Vernon blustered.
Augusta made a choked noise somewhere behind Cassiopeia, and Griselda gasped.
"Right," Cassiopeia muttered. She grabbed her bag and dug through it. "Here we are."
"Is that Veritaserum?" Augusta asked.
"It will probably be the only way we get the truth," Cassiopeia muttered.
"Or what they believe to be the truth," Griselda murmured, a look of distaste on her face as she glanced around.
"That's true," Cassiopeia admitted, "but it might be enough for us to parse the rest."
The resulting interrogation was a joint effort by all three witches. Occasionally, either Griselda or Augusta would have to hold Cassiopeia back while the other witch would continue with the questions. By the time they were done, Cassiopeia was strongly leaning toward killing them.
"We can't kill them, Cassiopeia," Griselda protested. "It's much too messy. It would be far better for them to just disappear."
"Let's just do what we came to do," Augusta said her voice thick with disgust. She could barely stand to look at the Dursleys.
"Very well," Cassiopeia agreed. For Harry's sake, she would allow these execrable human beings to live. She raised her wand and pointed it at Vernon Dursley. "Obliviate.
"Did you find anything out about Nicholas Flamel?" Ron asked Neville and Harry as soon as they had returned.
"Yes," Neville said excitedly.
Harry turned to look at Neville in surprise. "I did, too."
"What did you find out?" Neville asked.
"Well, Aunt Cassiopeia said that he was an alchemist, and that he created the Philosopher's Stone, which gives you eternal life. Then she said that living forever was a terrible curse, oh, and that Dumbledore was Flamel's partner," Harry blurted out.
Neville blinked. "I got nearly the same speech from my Gran, but she added that he was born in the 15th century, and that the Philosopher's Stone can turn ordinary metals into gold."
"That must have been why we couldn't find him in Study of Recent Developments in Wizardy," Ron grumbled.
"Probably," Harry agreed.
"But it's no wonder that Snape would be after it," Neville muttered. "Gold and eternal life would be hard for people to resist."
One of the perks of having family was that Harry now received packages and letters just like everyone else. Aunt Cassiopeia wrote to him once a week, but Hermione had warned him that if her mother was in the middle of a project she might forget to send him a letter. Surprisingly enough, Neville's Gran had sent him several packages of cinnamon bread with a short note about the house-elves being pleased that he had appreciated their efforts. Every time he received a letter, or a package, he felt a strange, happy lightness bubble up inside of him.
The other change since his Christmas holiday was that Draco Malfoy was acting a lot nicer. Harry wasn't an idiot—he had noticed the dark glares and the grim stares that Malfoy had sent his way. Neville had tried to explain the situation.
"Draco has always thought of Hermione as his," Neville told him one day after several pointed barbs and a lot of glaring.
"His? What, like he wants to date her?" Harry asked, gob-smacked. "We're only eleven… isn't that a little young to be dating?"
"Er… no, he doesn't want to date her," Neville protested. "Wizards don't really date. Well, not pureblood wizards, anyway. And for us, eleven isn't all that young to think about who you're going to marry."
"So Malfoy wants to marry her?" Harry's voice rose and he stared at Neville with wide eyes.
"What? No! He's her cousin. They've practically been raised together, almost like siblings," Neville explained with faint expression of distaste. He sighed and rubbed a hand on the back of his neck. "It started with me. Gran and Hermione's mother are really close, and we played together all the time. I think Draco thought I was going to take Hermione away from him. He was always rubbing my face in the fact that Hermione was his cousin, not mine."
"And I'm her cousin, too," Harry said with a thoughtful expression.
"Exactly," Neville agreed. "In Draco's mind, you have an equal claim to Hermione. In addition to that, Aunt Cassiopeia and Hermione have been worried about you for years."
"They have?" Harry turned to look at Neville in surprise.
Neville nodded. "Aunt Cassiopeia has been badgering Headmaster Dumbledore for information about you every year since… since your parents were killed. She was really close with her sister, and she doted on your dad. Hermione used to go visit you when you were a baby."
"I saw a picture," Harry admitted quietly. "It was a picture of me and Hermione, and my grandfather."
"Exactly," Neville said. "He finds you threatening. He thinks that now that Hermione's got you, she won't spend any time with him."
"That's ridiculous," Harry protested.
"Is it?" Neville asked. "Aunt Cassiopeia wants you to live with her and Hermione. If she had her way from the beginning, you basically would have been Hermione's brother."
"I don't think that Hermione would do that," Harry protested. "She thinks family is the most important thing there is."
"Of course she wouldn't," Neville agreed. "She loves Draco—she just wants to smack him half the time."
"If it isn't the little Mudblood and her Squib boyfriend," Graham Montague sneered as Hermione and Neville left the library. "I was hoping to run into you. I need to practice my hexes."
Montague was leaning against the wall, twirling his wand, and Terence Higgs was standing next to him with an amused smirk.
"How dare you," Neville cried angrily.
"I would have thought that you had learned your lesson," Hermione snapped, glaring at Montague.
"If anyone will be giving out lessons, it will be me," Montague retorted and cast a leglocker curse on Neville. "Locomotor Mortis!"
Furious, Hermione pointed her wand at Montague and cast a nasty boils hex. Then she turned to Terence Higgs, who held up his hands and backed up several paces. Finally, she turned to Neville and cast the counter-curse on him.
"Come on, Neville," she muttered, taking his arm and helping to his feet.
After the run-in with Montague, Hermione insisted on seeing Neville back to the Gryffindor Common Room. She had been grimly silent, her face a cool, impersonal mask.
"Hermione?" Neville asked in a soft voice.
Hermione shook herself and gave him a faint smile. "Yes, Neville?"
"When you do… whatever it is you're going to do… let me help?" Neville asked.
Hermione's faint smile morphed into a smirk. "Of course."
Returning Neville to the Gryffindor dormitories was supposed to be quick and simple, but they ran into Harry on his way back to the dormitory. His face was pale and set, and Hermione immediately hurried forward.
"Harry, what's wrong?" She asked anxiously.
"Snape's refereeing the next Quidditch match," Harry whispered.
Hermione gasped. While she didn't approve of Harry not using her Head of House's proper title… she couldn't blame him. Professor Snape appeared to be distressingly biased when it came to her cousin. Hermione was trying to be patient—to determine if there was a reason for Professor Snape to behave this way—but it was difficult.
"Don't play," she begged him. "Pretend to break your leg."
Harry shook his head. "I can't do that Hermione. Gryffindor hasn't got a reserve Seeker. If I don't play, the team would have to withdraw."
"But—," Hermione bit her lip.
"It'll be okay, Hermione. C'mon Neville. I have to tell Ron. He's going to go spare," Harry said with a heavy sigh.
While Hermione's relationship with Harry had developed wonderfully over Christmas break, her relationship with his friend Ronald Weasley was just as stilted and prickly as it had been on the train. Still, she couldn't be with Harry all the time, and Weasley was willing to help her protect Harry from Professor Snape, so she was willing to put up with his attitude. Neville had wanted to help, too, and all three of them had brought their wands to the match.
Weasley and Neville had escorted Hermione to the Gryffindor changing rooms so that she could hug Harry and wish him good luck. Then they had dragged Hermione to the Gryffindor section of the stands.
"Remember, it's Locomotor Mortis," Hermione murmured, her eyes fixed on the Quidditch pitch.
"I know," Weasley snapped. "Don't nag."
"You watch your tone, Weasley," Draco said coolly. "Perhaps that's the way your family treats gentle-witches, but around my cousin you'll keep a civil tongue in your head."
"Draco," Hermione greeted her cousin with a distracted smile. "What are you doing over here?"
"One might ask you the same thing, Hermione," Draco drawled. His eyes swept the pitch, and then he turned back to Weasley and Neville. "I decided to come over here and make sure that you were being taken care of properly."
Neville snorted. "Right. She's safer here than she is with your House. That Montague is a menace, and he's got it in for her."
The conversation swirled around Hermione, but she wasn't paying attention to it. Hermione had all of her fingers crossed and was clutching them in her lap, her eyes fixed on Harry, who was flying in tight circles, constantly scanning the sky for the snitch. Catching the Snitch as quickly as possible was Gryffindor's best bet, especially with Professor Snape refereeing.
"I'm warning you, Malfoy—"
"Weasley!" Hermione cried. "Harry—"
"What? Where?" Weasley demanded.
Harry had just gone into a spectacularly steep dive, and Hermione eeped, her hands pressed to her mouth as she watched her cousin. The crowd went wild around them, gasping and cheering as Harry sped toward the ground.
There was no denying that Harry was a natural on a broom—his grace and natural talent in the air were almost breathtaking. Mother had watched him fly over the holiday, and she had murmured that it was like watching Uncle Charlus fly.
"That man was poetry in the air," Cassiopeia had recalled fondly. "It's one of the reasons that Dorea first noticed him. Charlus Potter was an incredible Quidditch player, too."
Despite all of that, Hermione was still frightened. She didn't dare take her eyes off of her cousin, not even for a second. She jumped up so that she was standing on her seat—it let her see Harry better. When he held up a hand triumphantly, the Snitch clutched tightly, Hermione had shrieked in her excitement and jumped up and down on the seat.
He'd caught it!
"Weasley! Neville, Draco!" Hermione called. "Did you see? Harry's caught the Snitch! He did it!"
After spontaneously hugging Parvati Patil, a witch that she recognized from dancing class, she turned to look for Weasley, Neville and Draco. Draco was sprawled on the ground with Weasley standing over him, his chest heaving. Draco's left eye was rapidly swelling shut. Rage swept through Hermione at the sight of her cousin hurt and injured.
Then she turned to find Neville and discovered that he was completely unconscious with Crabbe and Goyle standing over him with identical smug smirks. Hermione gripped her wand tightly in her hand and quickly cast the Leg-Locker Curse on Weasley, Crabbe, and Goyle. She hurried forward and fell to her knees next to Draco.
"Merlin," she muttered worriedly. "Are you alright Draco? Can you hear me?"
"It'll be okay," Hermione told him firmly. "Hold on, I'm going to go fetch Madam Pomfrey."
Poppy Pomfrey was a skilled Healer with years of training. She had had difficult patients before, and she had dealt with distraught family before, but the Black girl was driving her up the wall. The little witch had come in with an unconscious Neville Longbottom and a slightly wounded Draco Malfoy and had refused to leave. She had insisted on dabbing the bruise paste on Malfoy herself… after thoroughly grilling Pomfrey on where she had obtained it, who had brewed it, etc. Then the witch had fussed over Malfoy so much that Pomfrey wanted to roll her eyes.
The Malfoy boy, for his part, was eating up the attention, and did absolutely nothing to dissuade the girl. In fact, Poppy was positive the boy was faking half of the groans he was emitting. Every now and then Black would pace over and watch Longbottom for a bit, worry shining in her eyes.
"He'll be alright, won't he?" Black worried aloud.
"Mr. Longbottom will be fine," Poppy assured her. "He was just Stunned. He'll probably wake up in a couple hours. Why don't you help Mr. Malfoy back to the Slytherin dormitory? If you would like to check on Mr. Longbottom after dinner, you are welcome to come and visit him here."
"I suppose," Black murmured, her eyes fixed on the still form of Longbottom in his hospital bed.
"Miss Black, I haven't lost a patient yet," Poppy said tartly.
"What do mean, 'Hagrid's got a dragon'?" Hermione demanded.
Draco shrugged. "I heard Weasley, Potter, and Longbottom talking."
"You do realize that Harry is your cousin as well, don't you?" Hermione pointed out with a scowl.
"Of course I realize that he's my damned cousin," Draco snapped. "If he wasn't, I wouldn't care that he's probably going to get poisoned by a dragon bite, or burnt alive in Hagrid's wooden house."
"What should we do?" Hermione asked worriedly. "Should we tell someone? Professor McGonagall, maybe? She's their Head of House."
"Oh, yes, that would go over swimmingly," Draco muttered and rolled his eyes. "She just loves us, and I'm sure she'd believe whatever we said."
Hermione sighed. "That's true," she admitted.
"We could tell Professor Snape," Draco offered.
Hermione rolled her eyes at Draco. "Because our Head of House, who for whatever reason, hates our cousin with an intensity that is, frankly, deeply disturbing, will automatically look out for Harry's best interests, I'm sure."
"Professor Snape wouldn't kill Harry," Draco protested indignantly. He crossed his arms over his chest and glared at Hermione.
"He was cursing Harry's broom, Draco," Hermione shot back.
"Fine. What about one of the other Heads?" Draco sighed, letting his head fall back on the couch.
"What if we let someone overhear us?" Hermione said slowly.
"Like who?" Draco demanded.
"I don't know… maybe Professor Sprout. She's a Hufflepuff. They believe in what's right and what's fair. She would want to help the boys, but she wouldn't want to punish them for helping a friend," Hermione explained.
"I suppose," Draco agreed.
The next day, during Herbology, Draco and Hermione claimed one another as partners with a celerity that had everyone around them blinking in surprise. The two cousins worked on their project industriously, but kept one eye out for Professor Sprout. They made sure to whisper loudly as soon as she came anywhere near them.
"Really? But isn't that dangerous?" Hermione hissed as loudly as she dared.
Blaise Zabini turned to stare at her.
"Oh definitely," Draco whispered loudly. "I'm really worried about Hagrid."
Theo Nott's eyebrows rose in surprise.
"Do you think the fire might stretch to the Forbidden Forest? What about the Centaur herd and the unicorns?" Hermione added.
Millicent kicked Hermione under the table.
"Have you both gone mental?" Millicent asked in a quiet voice once Professor Sprout had passed them with a worried look on her face.
"What? No. Now hush, she's coming back," Hermione muttered.
"And then there are those boys that keeping sneaking down to Hagrid's hut," Draco continued in his loud whisper. "What if one of them gets hurt?"
Blaise choked on air, and Theo gave him several firm swats on the back.
"Mr. Malfoy, what are you whispering about?" Professor Sprout finally demanded.
Draco widened his eyes and tried to look as innocent as possible. Hermione bit her lip to keep from laughing out loud and spoiling his efforts.
"Nothing, Professor Sprout," Draco told her with a solemn expression.
"Miss Black?" Professor Sprout demanded.
Hermione tossed her head and put her chin in the air.
"It's a family matter, Professor Sprout," Hermione said in a stilted, formal voice.
Professor Sprout frowned, looking between Draco and Hermione.
"Then you can discuss it during your free time," Professor Sprout told them both.
"Yes Professor," they chorused.
Millicent, who was standing out of Professor Sprout's line-of-sight, stared at Draco and Hermione with an expression of disbelief. Crabbe and Goyle appeared to be confused, Pansy and Daphne were snickering into their hands, and Tracy was watching Blaise and Theo with concern.
When the entire school was buzzing about the fact that Hagrid had been keeping a dragon in his hut, and that the dragon had been secretly smuggled out in the dead of night, the First Year Slytherins all turned to look at Hermione and Draco, who were calmly eating their breakfast.
"You knew," Theo said, watching them.
"Knew what?" Draco asked.
"About Hagrid, the dragon, all of it," Theo muttered.
"I'm so worried about Hagrid," Blaise mimicked Draco.
Draco frowned at Blaise. "I didn't sound like that," he protested.
"You did," Millicent told him bluntly. She turned to Hermione and frowned. "Why?"
Hermione ignored them and continued to eat, taking dainty bites and chewing thoroughly.
"The only things that Hermione cares about, aside from getting an Outstanding in every class, are family and Neville Longbottom," Millicent added. She frowned to herself. "That's it, isn't it?"
"I really don't know what you mean, Millicent," Hermione said coolly. She took a sip of her pumpkin juice.
"Potter likes Hagrid," Theo offered quietly. "I've seen him go to his hut, usually with Weasley and Longbottom in tow."
"That was some of the worst acting I've ever seen," Daphne observed and shook her head. "The next time you need help with something like that, come see me and Pansy."
"Thank Merlin you chose Professor Sprout," Pansy said. "Professor Snape or Professor McGonagall would never have bought that load of steaming—"
"Pansy!" Millicent hissed.
"Well they wouldn't have," Pansy retorted.
At Hogwarts, owls drew no notice at all. Hermione was so used to receiving letters and packages from her mother, Cousin Narcissa, and even Augusta Longbottom that one more didn't give her any cause for alarm. Even the fact that this owl, so dark it was almost black, didn't arouse any suspicion within her. The letter was real vellum instead of parchment, thick and creamy with a weight to it that screamed money and power. Curious, Hermione opened it.
As she scanned the contents of the letter, all the blood drained from her face.
"Hermione? What's wrong," Draco asked worriedly.
"It's Cousin Arcturus," Hermione whispered.
"What about him?" Draco pressed.
Hermione looked up, and her face was pale and set, her mouth set into grim lines.
"He died," Hermione said quietly.
"Died?" Draco echoed in surprise
"I only saw him before school started. He wasn't feeling well over Christmas, so we didn't visit him," Hermione murmured with a small frown. "I need to turn this in to Professor Snape. It's a request for me to be able to attend the funeral and the reading of his will."
"Are you the House Regent now?" Draco asked.
Hermione sighed. "It's complicated. Cousin Arcturus reinstated Cousin Sirius, and, technically, he would be the Patriarch, except he's still in Azkaban. There is always the possibility that Sirius will reject the House seat. I think that Cousin Arcturus probably made some provisions, and that's why I've been summoned."
"When will Aunt Cassiopeia come for you?" Draco asked quietly.
"Friday," Hermione murmured as she scanned the letter a second time.
"Mother and Father will probably send me a letter tomorrow," Draco murmured. His gaze wandered over the Great Hall, and he frowned. "What about Harry?"
"A parent or guardian has to submit a family emergency request." Hermione bit her lip. "Mother will probably do her best, but Dumbledore will try to block her just as he has for the past eleven years."
Most students had few occasions to ever see the Headmaster's office, but Cassiopeia had been a Prefect, and then Head Girl, so she had been in Headmaster Dippet's office several times. Dumbledore had apparently redecorated. She swept a glance about the office before she sat down across from Dumbledore.
"Arcturus has passed away." Cassiopeia folded her hands in her lap and looked up at the portrait of her grandfather. Phineas Nigellus nodded gravely.
"This is indeed distressing news," Dumbledore murmured. "I assume that you will need to take young Miss Black home to deal with family matters?"
Cassiopeia inclined her head in a small nod. She must tread carefully here. It was no good to win this small battle, but lose the war. Arabella's home, once fumigated and steam-cleaned, and finally magically cleaned to remove the lingering kneazle odours, had sold quickly. The Dursley home, reduced to a ridiculously low amount, had sold and cleared through escrow. The new families had already moved in. Just a little bit longer… just a bit more push in all the right places… and Harry would be with her and Hermione. It was much too late in the game to muck it up now.
"I had also thought to take Harry to Arcturus' funeral," Cassiopeia said coolly. "It could prove beneficial to the boy to be seen upholding our traditions and customs."
That was strictly true, and overtly Slytherin enough for Dumbledore to look only at the surface. He gazed at her with a solemn expression. She supposed that he was going for 'I'm deeply sympathetic to your view, but, sadly, I must disagree.'
"Miss Black, I understand your interest in Mr Potter's future, and I laud your dedication to family, but I'm afraid I must deny your request. I know that you were able to receive permission for Mr Potter to spend Christmas holiday at your home, but there has been no reply to your current request," Dumbledore explained with a regretful frown.
Of course there hasn't been a reply. Cassiopeia frowned at Dumbledore.
"The death of a Patriarch is a serious matter. Harry, as the future Patriarch of the Potter family, should be there to pay his respects," Cassiopeia reminded him with a frown. "Just as you will be there to pay your respects as the Patriarch of the Dumbledore family."
Dumbledore spread his hands wide and gave her a disarming smile. "But if Harry's guardians do not reply to your request, I'm afraid my hands are tied."
"Have you tried contacting them, telling them how important this is in our world?" Cassiopeia demanded.
"My dear Miss Black," Dumbledore attempted to soothe her. "I assure you that I, too, have sent a number of owls."
No, then. This might just work.
"I see," Cassiopeia replied. She glared at her grandfather who was scowling at Dumbledore. She stood up. "I'm afraid I've taken up enough of your time. I'll just collect Hermione."
"Of course, Miss Black," Dumbledore murmured.
"That insufferable wizard," Cassiopeia muttered under her breath as she marched toward Snape's office.
"Who, Mother?" Hermione asked as she hurried to keep pace with her mother.
"Not now," Cassiopeia said in a low voice. "Later. We'll be discussing this later."
"Yes, Mother," Hermione murmured.
They came to a halt in front of Snape's door, and Cassiopeia rapped on it smartly.
"Mistress Black," Snape said in surprise when he opened the door. "How may I assist you?"
"Master Snape," Cassiopeia nodded politely to him. "Might we use your Floo? Arcturus Black has died. I have spoken with the Headmaster, and he knows that Hermione needs to come home for a few days."
"Of course," Snape murmured. He opened the door wider and moved to the side. "My sympathies to your family."
"Yes, thank you," Cassiopeia replied. "Come along, Hermione. We have much to do."
"Thank you, Professor Snape," Hermione murmured and curtseyed.
Once they were through the Floo, Mother had raged for a solid hour about Dumbledore's insufferable high-handedness. Hermione had wisely remained silent.
The shock of Arcturus' death was still with her, and Hermione wasn't sure what she should be thinking or feeling. He had been her Patriarch, but he had also been almost like a grandfather to her. He had always been proud of her accomplishments, and he encouraged her to improve. Pureblood families were stiffly formal, but Arcturus had never reprimanded her when she had spontaneously hugged him.
Suddenly, a horrible, awful thought struck Hermione.
"Mother?" Hermione blurted out.
Cassiopeia paused mid-rant to look at her daughter. Hermione's face had gone pale and she was visibly distressed.
"Hermione? What's wrong?" Cassiopeia asked.
"Cousin Sirius," she asked and then flushed. Surely it was bad form to bring up such a matter when her Cousin Arcturus was barely cold.
"He won't be able to go to Arcturus' services, Hermione," Cassiopeia told her gently.
"I understand that," Hermione agreed. "No, I mean, his case."
Cassiopeia blinked and then she frowned. "That's true," she muttered to herself. "Sirius' case is now pending before the Wizengamot."
"What's going to happen?" Hermione worried aloud.
Cassiopeia frowned. "Well, we'll speak to Cygnus. I know that Arcturus has talked to him about this before."
"When does his case come before the Wizengamot?" Hermione asked anxiously.
"June," Cassiopeia sighed.
"Why is it taking so long," Hermione protested.
"Several factors," Cassiopeia explained. "Firstly, if Sirius is proven innocent of the crimes of which he is accused, it could prove potentially embarrassing to several of members of the Ministry of Magic. Secondly, many people found it only too easy to accuse Sirius because of his family. Thirdly, the idiot boy supposedly confessed when they caught up to him."
"He confessed?" Hermione whispered. She hadn't heard that bit before.
"Several witnesses report him laughing and saying 'I killed James and Lily'," Cassiopeia admitted.
Hermione frowned at that. "But you said–,"
Cassiopeia interrupted her. "I know what I said, and I stand by what I said. The boy was no Death Eater. If he had been, Walburga would never have disowned him."
"Then what did he mean?" Hermione asked.
"We won't know until the trial," Cassiopeia replied. She sighed and rubbed at her temples. "Go find Beaker and get ready. We have a long few days in front of us."
Returning to Hogwarts a week later was a relief for Hermione. They had spent almost the entire time with a team of lawyers and Cousin Cygnus poring over the future of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black. Arcturus had made specific provisions for every possible contingency. Her head ached, but she knew more than she had ever thought possible about the minutiae of House laws.
Both Cassiopeia and Hermione came back through Professor Snape's Floo, only to find the entire school in an uproar. It didn't take long to discover that Harry, Neville, and Ronald Weasley had managed to put their lives in mortal peril to get hold of Nicholas Flamel's Philosopher's Stone and confront Professor Quirrell, who was somehow possessed by Voldemort.
"Voldemort?" Cassiopeia repeated in a deadly calm voice that had Hermione subtly edging away from her mother. "I beg your pardon; did you say that my great-nephew was allowed to go frolicking through the castle to meet up with Voldemort?"
Professor Snape scowled at Cassiopeia. "No one allowed him to do anything. Potter was out after curfew—I'm still not certain how he managed to do that and not get caught."
Cassiopeia's lips pressed into a thin line.
"But he's well?" Hermione asked with an anxious expression. "He took no hurt?"
"Regrettably, the boy is fine," Snape growled. "Perhaps if he had, he would have had some sense knocked into him."
"I see," Cassiopeia muttered with a frown. She turned to glance at her daughter. "I will take care of this."
"I understand, Mother," Hermione replied quietly.
"Griselda, I need your help," Cassiopeia announced as soon as she stepped through the Floo. She turned to Augusta. "Yours too, Augusta."
"What's happened?" Griselda demanded. "You look as though you're ready to kill someone."
"I am," Cassiopeia growled. She gave a brief rundown of what had happened when Cassiopeia had tried to have Harry attend Arcturus' funeral, and what Harry had done while they had been gone.
"We need to change guardianship immediately," Griselda decided. "That's the only way that you'll have the power or the authority to do anything."
"I know," Cassiopeia agreed. "That's why I need you and Augusta. You both have contacts in the Ministry. Who will we need, do you think? What will we have to do to make him my ward?"
"Well… they're not much use for anything else, but what about the Daily Prophet?" Augusta suggested slowly.
"What about them?" Cassiopeia countered.
"You're playing a deep game, are you not?" Augusta asked pointedly. "You don't want Dumbledore to find out that you've been pulling the strings. What if the Daily Prophet did an exposé on Harry's supposed guardians?"
"Why would they do an exposé on Harry's guardians?" Cassiopeia demanded.
"When his guardians don't show up, make sure that you wait with Harry. Do it as publicly as possible—someone's bound to see and rumors will start. Take him home with you as publicly as possible. Make sure that you complain about his guardians. Again, someone is bound to see you. Write a letter to his guardians through a certified owl. Contact the Ministry and complain about Harry being abandoned at the train platform," Augusta ticked the items off on her hand. "There are usually reporters at the platform for the usual feel-good human interest story about school being out for summer. You will be far more interesting and exciting to them."
"And when the reporters check, you will have done everything that a concerned, conscientious family member would have done," Griselda added with a smirk. "Oh, that's brilliant Augusta."
"After the exposé, the Ministry will be forced to investigate," Cassiopeia said with a pleased smile. "And Harry will already be with me."
"Exactly," Augusta pointed out. "You already have multiple petitions in at the Ministry for custody of Harry."
"This might just work," Cassiopeia said with a laugh.
"Now where are your guardians, Harry?" Cassiopeia asked in a clear, carrying voice. "I've written to them several times about you coming to see us for the summer, and they haven't returned any of my owls."
Harry looked around with a frown. He didn't see Vernon or Petunia anywhere.
"I don't see them," he admitted.
"That's fine," Cassiopeia said firmly. "We'll wait with you. I wouldn't dream of leaving my sister's grandson alone."
There was a decorative bench where Cassiopeia sat down and waited calmly. Harry glanced at Hermione who shrugged and sat down next to her mother. At last, even the stragglers had gone. All that was left was a slender, odd-looking fellow who was lurking near the gate clutching a camera.
"I don't understand," Harry muttered. He was torn between being elated that the Dursleys hadn't come, and feeling somewhat forgotten.
At least Hermione and Aunt Cassiopeia hadn't forgotten him. They had stayed with him the entire time, and the stern look on her face had kept admirers at bay.
"I don't understand, either," Cassiopeia spoke again in that clear, carrying voice. "What kind of guardians would leave a defenceless child alone at a train station? I am certainly not abandoning you here. You shall come home with us. I will write to your aunt and uncle again and let them know where you are. Then I shall write a strongly worded letter to the Ministry."
Hermione and Harry followed Cassiopeia over to the now-empty public Floo.
"Let's go home," Cassiopeia muttered to the two of them.
A/N: I slightly shifted Arcturus' Canon death. He is supposed to have died in 1991, but it doesn't give an exact date. So I have him dying a few months later.