"Class dismissed," announced Professor McGonagall after a particularly difficult tranfigurations class. The students all breathed a sigh of relief, especially Neville Longbottom. He'd faithfully spent the entire hour trying to turn his needle into a bunny rabbit, but the most he'd accomplished was to give the needle two hind legs and a light dusting of fur. Nor was he helped by the way his now-mobile needle continued to attack him. If Hermione hadn't stupefied it, he might have even more bleeding little puncture wounds on his hands. He gathered up his books and was hurriedly shoving them into his backpack not wanting to be late for potions. He shuddered at the thought of what Professor Snape would do to him if he were late again.

He went over to Hermione, who was still restuffing her own bookbag. "Thanks for helping me with my needle," he said hesistantly.

The kind smile Hermione bestowed upon him was enough to make his knees wobble. "It's alright, Neville," she said graciously. "If I hadn't stepped in to help you, that vicious needle might've turned your poor hands into mincemeat."

Neville turned red and muttered something under his breath. Hermione, aware of the small crush Neville had developed for her, quickly looked for something else to talk about. "I see you like the backpack I got you for Christmas," she commented brightly.

Seemingly just as relieved by the change in subject, Neville matched her smile. He'd never been able to go anywhere without dropping his bag and spilling the contents all over the floor at least once a day. After the Slitheryns had discovered this weakness, the number of accidents increased exponentially, more often than not ending with his bright red face surrounded by Slitheryn students, laughing hysterically. Last Christmas, an owl delivered a strange-looking present from Hermione. That his grandmother had been equally puzzled as to its function told him that this was clearly some kind of muggle artifact Hermione had gotten for him. Upon return to school, she promptly explained that it was a closeable bag for his books, so that he wouldn't find himself spilling them all over the floor. The zippers were quickly explained, and he was beside himself with delight the next time Pansy Parkinson tripped him in the hallway, only for her disappointed face to discover that his new and strange-looking bag wasn't nearly as obliging as his old one. And the fact that it was a muggle thing meant that it was strictly illegal for anyone to place a spell upon it, as Milicent Bulstrode found out when a representative from the Ministry of Magic had appeared to inform her that she was lucky the Longbottoms were choosing to not press charges. Of course, there was the howler he'd received from his grandmother when she'd learned that her son was using a muggle invention given to him by a mudblood of all people. The rage he'd felt when she called Hermione by that name pushed him to write a scathing letter to his formidable guardian, standing up to her for one of the first times in his life.

As it was, things were back to their old, awkward norm, with Neville hopelessly enamored of Hermione and her painfully aware of the fact. So, as it was, even Neville was somewhat relieved when Professor McGonagall called out "Miss Granger, could I speak to you for a moment? Privately?"

Hermione paled instantly and Neville couldn't help but think that she looked rather nervous, considering that she was only going to speak to the professor who made it obvious that she favored Hermione. In fact, she looked far more than nervous..

Neville almost groaned to himself. Undoubtedly, McGonagall had asked Hermione not to help him, and was now going to quietly inform the girl what the consequences of her actions were. Guiltily, he turned to Hermione, "I'm sorry if you're getting into trouble for helping me, you really don't have to, you know."

The look of confusion on her face reassured him that he wasn't the cause for McGonagall's request. "What? Oh, no, Neville, this has nothing to do with you, really."

Then she hurried up to the front desk and Neville turned to leave. At the door, he dared one last glance back at Hermione, but instead met the face of Professor McGonagall. She smiled at him, but there was a trace of cunning present that made him shudder, a triumphant smirk that he hadn't thought her kind face could possibly form. Confused, he closed the door and made his way to potions.


Hermione knew the minute Neville left the room, for Professor McGonagall raised her wand and muttered a locking spell, before looking at her pupil. "Well now, Miss Granger," she began, the smirk that had bewildered Neville still prominent on her face. "Was it just me, or was it you who stupefied Mr. Longbottom's unsuccessful spell? Even though I have asked you repeatedly not to interfere in his somewhat sputtering learning process?"

"I, um, didn't help him with the assignment, Professor. I just stopped his needle from attacking him," Hermione explained, biting her lip. Seeing the skepticism on McGonagall's face, she continued; "It was vicious, Professor, Neville was already bleeding quite badly by the time I stupefied it. I didn't do anything to help him complete the spell."

"Really, Miss Granger?" McGonagall drawled with a smug, know-it-all expression. "I think that you, of all students, should know that how good a spell turns out in the real world is entirely dependent on the level of distraction and the wizard's ability to cope with that distraction. By saving 'poor Neville' from a slight bit of pain-which, I should point out, could be quite easily repaired by Madam Pomfrey-you have taken away from that most fundamental and necessary part of his education. Indeed, with Voldemort returning to power, it is quite possible that Mr. Longbottom should be forced to work under far more hazardous conditions than the one you have just saved him from. You are doing him a decided disservice by aiding him in class. I would advise that you discontinue doing so immediately."

Hermione swallowed hard, staring at her shoes. Now came the part that she dreaded most of these little talks Professor McGonagall had with her. "Now, Miss Granger," the Professor purred, with a glint in her eye that scared the shit out of Hermione. "What do you think your punishment should be for this infraction?"

Hermione closed her eyes and swallowed again before whispering the answer she knew was expected of her. "I should be given detention on Friday night with my punishment to be determined by you, Professor."

Although Hermione's tightly closed eyes didn't show her, she knew that the smirk on Professor McGonagall's face had grown into a full-fledged grin. "An excellent choice, Miss Granger," the Professor's response was throaty, as if she were having trouble saying the words. "Now, why don't you come over here and give your favorite professor a kiss?"