DISCLAIMER: I DO NOT OWN HARRY POTTER!

The Serpents' Child

Chapter 34

May 1997

"Something's going to happen." Hermione mused aloud in the Headmaster's office. She was on her feet, leaning against the stone wall and staring out of a window into the dark sky beyond it.

Dumbledore was sat at his desk, examining a collection of quills on his desk. He looked up at her as she spoke. She had been silent for over an hour. "I'm afraid you'll have to be more specific, Miss Lestrange. My mind is not as sharp as it once was."

"Please, Headmaster, your mind's as sharp as ever." She turned her head, student and teacher looking at each other and smiling. "With Hogwarts. Something's going to happen." She looked back out the window, looking past her own reflection. "He has plans."

"Plans, Miss Lestrange?"

"New lessons, curriculums, Death Eaters lined up for teaching positions…He means to take Hogwarts for His own."

Dumbledore hummed thoughtfully. "Yes, Tom has always wanted to be influential at Hogwarts. It started in His Fifth year here as a Prefect, then Head Boy, and then when He applied for the Defence teacher position."

"And you wisely declined?" She smiled.

"My dear, I didn't become Headmaster until Master Dippet retired in 1956." He reminded her gently, sensing she was distracted and pensive. "Headmaster Dippet refused Tom the job because of his young age, and because Tom had little worldly experience."

"But I thought Dippet liked Him?"

"That he did. That was why Tom took the rejection so harshly; He had always had Dippet wrapped around His little finger." Hermione hummed thoughtfully, sitting down in the chair opposite the professor's desk. "How do you know of Tom's plans for Hogwarts?"

"I saw them. In the library in Lestrange Manor over Easter break. Bellatrix was-slash-is still upset over Blaise and I-"

"I thought you had so far managed to keep your reconciliation a secret?"

"So far we have. But she's still furious with me for 'spoiling myself with a boy unworthy of my affections'." She smiled ruefully as she quoted her mother's words. Dumbledore gave her a sad smile back. "Anyway. I avoided her most of the break, staying in the library to revise for exams. Then one day, He was in there too…"

!"!

April 2nd 1997

Hermione had just had breakfast by herself in her room – dinner the night before had been a horrible and tense affair, with Bellatrix still bringing up Blaise, Hermione getting upset, Rodolphus and Lucius trying to keep the peace, Narcissa trying to calm Bellatrix down while still making it clear to Hermione that she agreed with her sister, and Draco sitting there looking uncomfortable and troubled – when she entered the library and closed the door behind her. She headed over to her preferred corner of the room, but halted when she walked around a corner. Voldemort sat in 'her' cushioned alcove, dozens of pieces of parchment spread out on the floor in front of Him as He looked over them carefully. Hermione tried to hide her fear when she saw that Nagini was on the floor next to her Master's feet. The giant snake lifted her head when she also saw Hermione, making a happy hissing sound. Voldemort looked up as she came around the corner, and smiled as His face changed into His Tom Riddle persona, something He only did for her. Hermione knew it should be taken as a compliment, but just couldn't think of it as such seeing as she knew why He did it.

"Good morning, Hermione. Still an early bird, I see."

"Good morning." She greeted back, bobbing her head – the only sign of respect she could allow herself to do. She wouldn't curtsey to Him and she refused to say 'my Lord'. Thankfully He still found her defiance amusing. Merlin help her the day He becomes annoyed by it.

"Are you here to study for your exams?"

"Yes I am."

"What's on the agenda for today?"

"Transfiguration, inanimate to animate."

"Always my least favourite subject when I was at school…" He mused.

She didn't try to stop the words coming out of her mouth. "Because you didn't like the subject, or because Professor Dumbledore was your teacher?"

He gave an unimpressed frown. "Cheeky, dear girl, very cheeky." He scolded.

Hermione thanked Merlin that He only scolded her. She looked at the parchment in between them. "What are you working on?"

"See for yourself." He scooted over in the alcove. Surely He didn't expect her to sit next to Him? Judging by His face, He clearly did. She pushed down her revulsion and made her way over to Him, sitting down. Nagini immediately slithered over to her, slithering up onto the bench and curling up next to her as she had done with Voldemort, resting her head on a tense Hermione's lap. "Opinions?" He asked of her. She darted her eyes across the work.

With a horrified realisation, she voiced her concern. "This is Hogwarts."

"Indeed. There'll need to be some changes." He trailed off thoughtfully as He looked over the pages with her.

"Do you really think that Professor Dumbledore will accept any of your suggestions?" She asked incredulously.

The smile He gave her twisted her stomach. Her clenched hand on her knee was her only visible outward sign of distress. Hermione squeaked in surprise when Nagini flicked her tongue out and licking across Hermione's knuckles. He laughed when He saw it. "Come now, Hermione, Nagini isn't anything to be afraid of. Not if you don't rile me too much. Besides, the old fool will not last much longer. Surely you know this?"

"Do you mean through the upcoming War or through his age?"

He just smiled again. "Have you any suggestions for My plans for the curriculum changes?" He waved a waved and a piece of parchment hovered over to her.

She reached out and took it. As she read it over, Nagini wiggled her head under Hermione's free hand. "She's worse than a cat." She joked quietly. Voldemort laughed with her. Certain He didn't want criticism on His work and not wanting to be too helpful, she merely said, "This seems very good."

"Do you yourself have any complaints about the current curriculum at Hogwarts?"

"Well-"

"Hermione," He started in a chastising tone, "Remember what I said in one of our first meetings. I like honesty and I despise lies."

Feeling like a traitor, she offered, "Well I've never liked that there isn't any advanced courses or classes. Or activities for extra credit."

"Yes. Yes, that seems like a good idea. It will separate those who want to succeed and have drive from those who merely wish to scrape by. Anything else?"

"Perhaps…" She trailed off quietly.

He prompted her with a firm, "Hermione."

"Perhaps a class on the Old Ways? Traditions, customs, rituals, and the like?"

He pondered and then nodded. "A very good idea; keep the Old Ways alive."

"I meant it as an aid to muggleborn students, so they can learn more about the Wizarding world."

He shook His head. "Soon enough there will not be mudbloods at Hogwarts."

"I was a muggleborn." She reminded Him.

Nagini hissed loudly from her lap, as if Hermione had offended the snake. Voldemort said, "You were never a mudblood, Hermione, you've always been a Pureblood."

"Not until last summer. I was as good as a mudblood before then."

"Don't be ridiculous, Hermione." He snapped at her.

She waited a minute before continuing, stroking Nagini's head cautiously. She'd never stroked a snake before. "So there'll be no muggleborns at Hogwarts at all?"

"No."

"Not even gifted ones?"

He scoffed. Nagini seemed to laugh. "A gifted muggleborn?"

"It does happen."

He looked up from the parchment He was reading and smiled at her in a slightly patronising way. "Then, my dear, what would you suggest for these 'gifted' mudbloods?"

"That they be allowed to go to Hogwarts too."

"How would we determine the gifted from the norm?"

She frowned at His obvious mocking. "There are spells to determine a magical being's strength."

"They are complicated."

"Even for the Dark Lord?" She teased.

His eyes darkened and for a moment she thought she had gone too far. But then He lifted an eyebrow in amusement. "Touché, my dear. So, we test all mudbloods and those who excel may attend Hogwarts?"

"Yes."

"And those who do not?"

"Why shouldn't they still attend? There are Purebloods who can barely hold their wands, will they be allowed to go to Hogwarts?"

He scoffed. "Of course."

"Why?"

"Because they are Pureblood."

"Schools should still be about education and intelligence! If you take that premise and throw it out the window, then why call Hogwarts a school at all? Why even call it Hogwarts? Why not call it 'Voldemort's Institution for the Pureblood and Idiotic?"

"Mind your tone, my dear." He snarled as He stood up threateningly. Nagini straightened up, her head level with Hermione's. That was more frightening than Voldemort.

She ducked her head, knowing she had pushed too far. "Apologies. But my point still stands. Why should the less able – and frankly, stupid – Purebloods continue on into their NEWTs – which they will probably fail – when there are intelligent muggleborns who could excel and succeed in the world? Just because of their blood? And if so, will they have to be completely Pureblooded? What about halfbloods? Three-quarter blood? Every Pureblood family has some muggleborns and halfbloods in it, even the Blacks, Malfoys and Lestranges." She had done her research to confirm that, knowing one day she might need to prove a point.

"Then why don't you suggest a compromise?" He demanded.

Hermione's brain whirled into overdrive. Whatever next came out of her mouth may very well be implemented by Voldemort should He ever get control of Hogwarts. She needed something that would give muggleborns a good chance in the Wizarding world, yet still be acceptable to Voldemort and make Him think that the Purebloods would still come out on top. "How about if all Pureblood, halfbloods and muggleborns can all attend Hogwarts up to OWL level, with only the ones with top grades going on to complete their NEWTs?"

"Will Purebloods not be allowed to continue on if their grades are not high enough?"

"You want me to say that all Purebloods will continue, don't you?" He smirked. "Fine, most Purebloods will complete NEWTs, but those with below average grades cannot, unless they retake the disappointing OWLs."

"And mudbloods with below average grades?"

"They can either leave or choose to retake too. Purebloods could choose to leave too, if they wanted."

"You would give mudbloods a second chance?" He was amused.

"Of course I would."

He chuckled. "Defender of the Downtrodden. Typical Hermione."

She nodded her head humbly. "Of course."

"Impressive, Hermione, very impressive." He sat down again, hissing in Parseltongue to Nagini. The snake spoke back, in a slightly higher and softer hiss. So there was an audible difference between male and female? The thought intrigued Hermione, but then flew out the window when Nagini didn't immediately put her head back down in Hermione's lap. Instead, she started wrapping herself around Hermione's waist. Was she going to kill Hermione?! Crush her like she knew some snakes did? Voldemort picked up on her panic. "Calm down, my dear. She just wants to surround you." He explained, as if that made Nagini's movements any less frightening. Nagini stopped moving. By the end, she had circled Hermione's lower torso twice – almost acting like a bodice or corset – and was resting her head on the girl's left shoulder. She was thick and heavy, making it slightly uncomfortable, but not impossible, for Hermione to breathe. Voldemort looked at the two of them, giving Hermione a smirk. "You look quite beautiful like that, Hermione. Quite distracting." He pushed Hermione's curls back over her right shoulder, baring her neck. "Now, shall we discuss what kind of extra credit should be available?"

!"!

Dumbledore listened to Hermione's recounting of the story, including Voldemort's tolerance of her. No-one else would have lived past the 'Voldemort's Institution' comment. Dumbledore of course knew why Voldemort was so unusually tolerant of Hermione. The very thought of the Dark Lord's pursuit of the young girl in front of him made Dumbledore's stomach twist, and even he didn't know how that horrible idea would turn out. He knew Hermione would never willingly submit to Voldemort of her own free will. No. If Voldemort were to ever have Hermione, He would have to exploit one of her weaknesses, use tactic and force if necessary.

"You did very well, Miss Lestrange. I don't think even Ministry negotiators could have managed better than you." She blushed slightly. "So you truly believe that Tom believes Hogwarts will be His?"

"Yes sir. And soon."

Dumbledore twirled the tip of his beard in thought. "Well…We'll just have to make sure that that doesn't happen, won't we?"