Disclaimer: I do not own the original canon nor am I making any profit from writing this piece. All works are accredited to their original authors, performers, and producers while this piece is mine. No copyright infringement is intended. I acknowledge that all views and opinions expressed herein are merely my interpretations of the characters and situations found within the original canon and may not reflect the views and opinions of the original author(s), producer(s), and/or other people.

Warnings: This story may contain material that is not suitable for all audiences and may offend some readers. Please exercise understanding of personal sensitivities before and while reading.

Author's Note (Terms of Interest): assinnum is a Sumerian word that roughly translates to "man-woman" and refers to individuals who openly display traits & behaviors believed to be inherent of both ends of the gender spectrum. It is used here both as a singular and as a plural; hermaphrodite is a term referring to an individual who has a fully functional set of genitalia for both male & female. There has never been a confirmed case; intersex is a term for having mixed genital traits. There's a scale. It's deeply disturbing if you care about people and consent.

Author's Note: This story takes place in a universe where intersexuality is far more common in the magical world than it is in the Muggle one (closer to a true third of their population). There are cultural shifts which reflect this change in dynamics. There are also different background relationships than what was given in canon, again as a reflection of changed dynamics.

Dedication: This story is the brainchild of a dear friend of mine, Loredian Lightsgrace. Lore was one of my best friends…right up to the day that he was fatally shot by the police officer who answered his mother's 911 call for help getting her autistic son to a hospital to prevent him from committing suicide, passing from a person who was warmly alive to just another cold addition to the 16x more likely to die statistic. The Lore Project are stories given or inherited from Lore, and they are completed in the memory of my friend without boundaries, Loredian Lightsgrace—a Hufflepuff's Hufflepuff.

Competition/Challenge Block:
House: Hufflepuff
Category: Themed (Feeling Loved)
Prompt: Book (object)
Word Count: 4391 (Story Only); 4391 + 16 (Story & Epigraph)

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Bookworms Notice
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"The things that make me different are the things that make me." - A.A. Milne
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Bookworms had a way of noticing each other. It was true in the Muggle world and it was just as true in the microcosm of Hogwarts. Of course, Hogwarts made this much easier by color coding the vast majority of the bookworms. The few that were not Ravenclaws could easily be spotted in their native habitat of the library, where they vied for the best spots among the scattered study tables.

Typically, the best spots were the uncontested territories of the upperclassmen, but Madam Pince had her occasional favorite which earned them the dubious honor of the most prominent table in the main drag. It was perfectly lit, had great air flow, and some forgotten student had used the chairs to practice various comfort charms whose magic had lingered after they had graduated. It was also the table that had the best view of the checkout desk, allowing the librarian to keep watch over it. It used to be Hermione's, back in her first lonely months before she was saved by Harry and Ron and consequently had to abandon it or lose her library privileges. By the second week of the fall term of 1991-1992, another waif had taken up the spot.

The girl was as pale as milk and had about as much substance to her as a moonbeam. In contrast, her clothing outside of the required black robes was all bright jewel tones. Her jewelry was made from things that most people would have thrown away, like bottle corks and old buttons. Her oddest accessory had to be a pair of earrings which looked like what the uninformed would call radishes. They were actually dirigible plums. The few who had been brave enough to talk to her came back with reports of things that made no sense like talk of something called a nargle or a conspiracy involving tooth decay and the newly elected Minister of Magic. Unfortunately for the little Ravenclaw, children are not as willing to accept an individual's uniqueness as an adult may be, and curiosity was quickly replaced with derision, especially among her fellows in blue.

But bookworms had a tendency to notice each other, and on occasion, when Hermione was in the library without her boys, she would sit across from the blonde to study. As worry about the opened Chamber grew, these times became rare. Her boys, Harry especially, were worried about Hermione traveling the corridors alone. There didn't seem to be anyone worried about Luna (as the girl was named) other than the sixth year Ravenclaw prefect Penelope Clearwater. On the day that Hermione was petrified, Penny and Hermione had been forced to take Luna to the Hospital Wing due to a particularly nasty hiccupping jinx that wasn't responding to common dispelling charms, though not before the girl had ripped a page from her copy of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and shoved it into Hermione's hand. The ripped page would later be found by Harry as he attempted to hold Hermione's hand.

The rest was history, as the saying goes.

Bookworms also had a tendency to notice the odd gaps in knowledge that each other have, usually due to having missed out on a facet or two of normal living because of their nose perpetually being in a book. Book recommendations existed because of kindly pointing out these gaps to each other. Thus, when Luna slid a slim nondescript book across the table to her before Summer Break, Hermione thought nothing of it. While having only ever exchanged a few dozen words over the course of the whole year, there remained the fact that despite their different Houses, they were both bookworms.

The book was surprisingly fiction. It appeared to be a generic romance. Although her knowledge of the magical world was limited to nonfiction works, the book seemed to be the magical equivalent of a bodice-ripper meeting a Jane Austen. What was most peculiar was the kind of relationship that it featured as if it were a normal everyday occurrence. It featured a triad. Not only was the featured relationship a triad, but it featured something labeled as an assinnum, which seemed to be what Muggles would call a hermaphrodite.

Hermione's breath caught in her throat when she realized that intersexuality was common enough in the magical world that there was a special term for it. The most surprising thing was that there didn't seem to be the stigma that existed in the Muggle world. The fact that Hermione was intersex was not something that she had ever shared with anyone, even as close as she was to her boys. Her parents had to share it a few times over the years. It had been disclosed to McGonagall when she came to talk to them about Hermione's status as a witch. The deputy headmistress had reassured them that it wouldn't be a problem. If the book's scenario was to be believed, 'not being a problem' was an understatement. Not only was it accepted in the magical world, but a vital part of their lifestyle. The concept was shocking, even to her parents when she shared the book with them.

Hermione lost herself in books that summer, barely acknowledging the outside world. In the Muggle world, intersexuality was still something which was barely acknowledged and when it was discussed, it was often in terms of how to fix the children who were born with genital traits of both sexes. The fact that her parents had kept her intact, even against doctor recommendation, was something which Hermione was becoming increasingly thankful for as her research into magical traditions around assinnum progressed.

The research also led to her beginning to understand the source of the prejudice against Muggle-borns more. Apparently, the prejudice had more to do with the danger they posed for exposure along with the corrupting influence of the Judeo-Christian beliefs upon magical traditions than it had to do with any issue of blood purity. As Muggle medicine reached the point where they could perform corrective surgeries upon children born with intersexual traits, that prejudice became strongly rooted in the minds of the magically-raised. Unions which included assinnum were guaranteed to produce strong offspring, especially if the assinnum was the carrier. However, Muggle-born assinnum were being fixed which apparently destroyed this ability, even if the assinnum remained biologically capable of carrying a child. Movements began which pushed for all magical children to be removed from Muggle homes as quickly as they could be identified, especially if they were assinnum. It was a matter of preserving the magical world which had begun to decline in power and ability as the number of assinnum dwindled.

The fact that Albus Dumbledore was the leading voice against protecting assinnum born in the Muggle world was a bit shocking to the young Gryffindor witch. He was always portrayed as the protector of all. When faced with the contradiction in sources, Hermione fell back on what she always did: she created a list of all related data points gleamed from research and firsthand observation. One look at the resulting list had her running for her ensuite bathroom. When a letter from Harry arrived after his birthday talking about how he had run away from the Dursleys after a fit of accidental magic but that he was safe and sound at the Leaky Cauldron where he had been met by no less than the Minister of Magic himself, Hermione pressured her parents into a trip from Crawley to London to visit him. She needed to talk to someone about the conclusions she had come to about their headmaster and his seemingly Machiavellian ways, and despite the fact that he obviously tried to hide it, Harry was very intelligent. Moreover, Harry needed to know what she suspected because otherwise he could be walking blindly into a trap.

Harry took the influx of information with his normal calm acceptance. To test Hermione's hypothesis about information concerning his heritage being kept from him, Harry had gone to the goblins for testing. Though the wisdom of running such an important function of inheritance procedure through a financial institution ran by a race of beings who were prone to going to war with wizarding kind was dubious at best, it remained that Gringotts was the final arbitrator of wills and estates in the magical world. What should have been a fifteen-minute procedure, quickly turned into a several hours long meeting which further turned into a series of meetings, not only with the manager of the Potter accounts, but also the law firm who handled the Potter estate paperwork and interests by proxy. There were a lot of things which should have been handled in the wake of his parents' death but due to several factors, simply hadn't been. Not the least of these factors was the unlawful imprisonment of the executor of Lord James Potter's will, who was no less than Harry's godfather, the recently escaped "convict" Sirius Black. (Apparently, Black had never received a trial, so lacking a conviction, he could only be a prisoner.)

As these things were revealed to the pair of teenagers, they were also shared with Hermione's parents. It was then that Harry found out that Dumbledore hadn't been the only person to have kept major secrets from him. Daniel Granger had indeed been trained as a dentist, but he apparently hadn't practiced his trade in over four years because he had to take over the duties of the inherited minor title which had been originally given to his older brother. Perhaps even more scandalous was the relationship of Hermione's "aunt" Emmy with Hermione's parents, not that Harry was upset about the fact that her parents had an unconventional relationship so much as he was about the fact that she had never mentioned this to either him or Ron. In the ensuing argument, many things were revealed by both friends—the Dursleys' treatment of Harry and Hermione's intersexuality being the primary things.

Things changed between the two friends. Hermione was hyperaware that one of her boys knew about her gender secret. It didn't make her feel any less of a girl to have a penis and Harry didn't seem to think of her as more of a boy for having learned of its existence. Harry seemed skittish and paranoid about Hermione knowing what the Dursleys thought about him, as if learning that he hadn't been good enough for his family would make her want to treat him the same way. While his opening up about it happened over the course of just a few weeks, there were times when it seemed like it was happening over the course of eons. Harry seemed most surprised at how angry the Granger adults were after Molly Weasley's causal dismissal of her sons' story about the Dursleys starving and locking up Harry as well as just not noticing that something was wrong from looking at him. Just like the Weasleys' seeming to genuinely like him last summer, the Grangers' anger on his behalf along with their pursuit of justice for him in the Muggle world was as shocking as it was confusing. The paradigm between the two friends had irrevocably shifted with the inclusion of the other in their secrets.

In turn, it caused a shift in their other relationships. Once they were back at Hogwarts, Ron quickly grew jealous over how close Harry and Hermione were, though Hermione could not tell if he was jealous because of Harry or herself. He would blow up over the strangest things on occasion. Crookshanks chasing Scabbers didn't help, even as first Hermione and then Harry tried to explain that cats ate rats. An incident occurred in Defense, which brought the situation to the attention of their newest professor for the subject. When Professor Lupin had recognized an allegedly dead man in the rescued rat, things with Ron became even more strained than they already were. This was especially the case when Harry took to spending regular amounts of his limited free time visiting with what turned out to be one of his parents' best friends after the loss of Scabbers. Hermione knew Harry was feasting upon the stories the man shared about his parents, storing the memories against future famine. While Hermione tried not to, there was still times that even she was a bit jealous of the time the two spent together—not like Ron's hot possessiveness, but more wanting to be included.

Ginny alternated between worshiping her "hero" from a distance and being sneakily clingy to the trio of friends. Hermione didn't mind her addition to their little group, even when it slowed down their progress on homework because the girl kept bickering with her brother when she wasn't mooning over Harry. Hermione pulled Neville into the study group to act as a buffer, using the quiet boy's knowledge and understanding of Herbology as an excuse. It took two sessions for Neville to hesitatingly but blatantly ask for reasons why he was being included. Hermione told him in her bluntest fashion just how much she needed and wanted his skill set in their study group. (The way he had straightened his shoulders at being declared the best at both Herbology and unoffensively managing people validated the use of her bossiest tone, no matter how much it had always isolated her from her peers in the past.)

Even with Neville in the group, Hermione found herself slipping away from her boys (all three of them, though Ginny didn't feel like one of hers like the boys did) to visit the library and the specially reserved table under the librarian's gimlet eye. Luna never failed to look surprised to see her, as if she always expected Hermione to just stop being friends with her. After listening to the way Ginny talked about Luna once the redhead had discovered that Hermione hung out with her, Hermione understood. It was true that Luna didn't always make sense at the particular moment she said something, and a lot of the creatures she mentioned were definitely not in the standard books on magical creatures. However, Hermione had noticed that Luna's comments did make sense once they needed to be understood, which could be weeks after the fact.

As for the creatures, Hermione ended up just asking for the name of the necessary references. Luna's face had lit up in delight at the question and within a few days, Hermione found herself working through a thick tome so ancient that she suspected Hogwarts to be younger. She was careful to protect the new book from others, somehow understanding that it was not something to be shared with just anyone. Luna's references and worries begun to make more sense the more Hermione learned and the two bookworms grew closer with their shared knowledge. Being around the other girl was as soothing as swimming in a moonlit lake, refreshingly calm, especially after having to deal with temperamental Weasleys all day.

If Luna was a moonlit lake, then Harry was a sun-ripened field of grain fluttering in a summer breeze. As barristers and politicians fought over the legalities of imprisoning the Heir Apparent of a Noble and Ancient House without so much as an official charge, Harry adapted to the idea that it was likely he would never have to step foot at his relatives ever again. He would alternate between wistfully staring off at something only he could see and looking like he was either going to start crying or throwing things. Hermione would either recall him to the present or delicately get rid of any audience, depending on the needs of the situation.

The friends had almost forgotten about their suspicions about their esteemed headmaster. When things came to a head, it seemed to happen suddenly despite the fact that it had been building for months, or maybe even years. All it took to bring it about was Emelia Eurydice Granger, formerly of the House of Fleamont walking into the Great Hall to hand-deliver to the Headmaster the papers concerning the lawful transfer of guardianship (both Muggle and magical) for one Harry James Potter of the House of Potter from the man who had unlawfully appointed himself the boy's magical guardian to herself. Hermione loved her Mama and had always known she defied expectations and definitions, but watching her standing inside a building that she shouldn't have been able to even see, not if she hadn't been keeping a very big secret all this time as she apparently had, was beyond inspiring. Emmy refused to allow herself to be shuffled off to Dumbledore's office, and insisted on having the confrontation over her right to take her children home for the weekend in front of over five hundred witnesses.

Dumbledore knew that the moment he denied her as a true parent for Hermione on the grounds of not having the same blood that he had decimated his political standing. It was obvious in the way that he paled after saying the words. As if to punctuate that conclusion, Severus Snape stood from his side at the end of the Head Table and moved to the Slytherin table. The entire room seemed to be holding its breath as the potions master glided to where Draco Malfoy was sitting and staring at the headmaster with wide and shocked eyes. The man placed a possessive hand on the boy's shoulder, causing the gaze to shift targets.

"Severus, there's really no need—" Dumbledore started, his tone cajoling. Snape tightened his grip on Draco, causing the boy to whine out a word that sounded suspiciously like 'papa'. Snape's eyes spat defiant fire at the headmaster as he began to pull the boy from his seat.

"You will find, headmaster, that I do not appreciate the idea that my bondmate would not have access to our son because I bore him instead of her," he snapped. If possible, Malfoy's eyes seemed even larger at those words. Despite how much the git annoyed her, he seemed genuinely terrified at the moment. Of course, Hermione also thought Snape looked particularly terrifying at the moment. Magic seemed to roll off the acerbic professor in much the same way that it did from Hermione herself when she was overly emotional. On the heels of that recognition came the realization of what it meant in conjunction with his words.

"Assinnum," Ron said with clear disgust. Hermione felt the bottom drop out of her world. She didn't want to look away from the conflict happening at the front of the room but she couldn't stop herself from looking at Ron's sneering face. Her stomach twisted as all her old worries about her boys finding out her secret came to the fore again. As if to clarify that it wasn't a misinterpretation on her part, Ron continued speaking with the same disgusted tone. "Figures the slimy bat would be a freak."

Hermione had always known that Harry was fast, especially in reacting to things. After hearing about his home life, Hermione also understood why he had such quick reflexes. She was still unprepared for Harry launching himself across the Gryffindor table at Ron with his fists already swinging. Neville dived into the fight, but she couldn't really tell if it was to join Harry's side or to separate the two (probably former) friends. Ginny would have joined the fight as well but one of the twins grabbed her around the middle while the other waded into the fray like it was something he did every day of the week. It took Professor Lupin pulling Harry off of Ron by the scruff of his neck for whichever twin it was (she couldn't tell like Harry could) to successfully yank Ron out from under Neville and Harry. A deceptively gentle-looking hold on Ron's ear kept him from restarting the fight.

She hadn't noticed herself standing until Luna was pulling her away from the table. Still reeling from the maelstrom of emotions running through her, Hermione gave into the urge she had been fighting all semester; she pulled Luna into a tight hug. It was not the way she had wanted to do it, but just as jumping on Harry back in first year had, it felt incredibly right to hold Luna. It felt even better when Luna returned the embrace.

"Dear lord, could you be more like your parents?" the Defense professor groused as Harry continued attempting to get at the target of his rage. "How the devil did you manage to get Sirius' temper in addition to Lily's? Ah, ah, ah, no," Lupin scolded when Harry tried to kick out at Ron in lieu of punching him. He used his hold on Harry to give him a bit of a shake, as a mother dog would a puppy who was misbehaving. Noting the more gold coloring to the professor's normally brown eyes, Hermione decided it was probably a more apt description that she had originally realized. It did manage to break through the emotions that had blinded Harry to his situation. Hermione watched as he went limp against the man's side. "Now, what caused this then? I was under the impression that Ron was one of your best friends."

"He—" Harry bit off whatever he was going to shout. Hermione saw a flash of his green eyes as he looked at her before turning a glare at the stone floor. Luna sighed in her ear, apparently realizing the same thing that Hermione just had. Harry wasn't going to out her, not even to make his favorite professor understand his actions. Hermione straightened her back as she stepped away from Luna. She couldn't let Harry get into trouble over this any more than she could have let him take the blame for that troll back in first year.

"Ron called Professor Snape a freak, sir," Hermione said, raising her chin in defiant pride. She didn't flinch when Lupin's completely gold eyes snapped to her face, but only by reflexively clenching her hands. Hermione licked her lips before she continued. "He implied that it was due to Professor Snape's status as an assinnum."

"Did he really?" Lupin asked. He sounded completely calm but Hermione got the distinct impression that it was just a cover. The golden eyes told Hermione that the man's wolf was very close to the surface. A yelp of protest sounded from Ron, drawing eyes to him again. Whichever twin had ahold of his ear had twisted it.

"Ow, that's not fair," Ron protested further. "I can't believe you're all defending that greasy git. No one likes him until he declares how much of a freak he is? That's rich."

Luna's arms tightened around Hermione at the words even as Harry did his best to launch himself at the redhead again. Lupin barely managed to keep his hold on the boy. With no one to hold him back, Neville managed to connect his punch to Ron's jaw. Everyone stared at the normally docile boy who now panted in barely-contained fury.

"My grandmother hates the idea of blood politics," Neville said, his tone sharp and pointed. His left eye was already swelling from a blow he must have taken in the previous scuffle. Instead of making him look weaker, the visible remains of the fight only made him look fiercer. "She has made no secret over the years that hating someone because of how they were born was beyond stupid. She also has never spared words over the price that comes with such blind hatred. Entire families were slaughtered in its name, their secret magics lost for all time. My parents were tortured until they can't even recognize me." He choked on that last declaration, as if saying it had been like stabbing himself. He pushed through it, continuing his speech. "It was because of that hate that I was nearly made a squib. If my mother hadn't been one of those freaks, then I probably would have been!"

"You shouldn't use that anyway," Luna commented into the stunned silence. For all that her voice was breathy, it stabbed sharply at Ron's obvious petulance at being scolded for voicing another attack on the Potions professor. Hermione shivered and leaned into Luna's still solid embrace. "It's not nice. Being mean is not an excuse to be mean back."

"What do you mean by that?" Ron demanded hotly. His face was flushed with his frustration. "I can't help it if that's what he is! He practically declared that he's got girl-bits to the entire school. Why are you mad at me? Snape's the freak!"

"Say that again," Harry snarled, making yet another aborted attempt at lunging at Ron. "I dare you!"

It finally dawned on Hermione that Harry wasn't just responding to the repeated use of that hateful word. She knew from their discussions the previous summer that freak had been a favorite epithet of the Dursleys. Harry had just shrugged off the horrors of his childhood at the time, doing his best to make it seem like it hadn't mattered what they thought of him. Watching him now, Hermione could see that while he would probably never fight for himself (the damage was too much to ever be truly overcome), Harry was clearly not above violence to protect his loved ones from the same fate.

Oh, god, Harry loved her.

As if in response to the realization striking her like lightning, Luna rubbed her cheek against Hermione's before giving an approving hum. Shocked, Hermione turned to look at the blonde fully. Luna smiled and bussed a kiss against her cheek.

"Took you long enough to notice," she whispered, startling Hermione into a laugh. Luna pulled back enough that her louder call to Harry didn't deafen Hermione. "Hey, Harry, leave off fighting the berk and get over here. Hermione's finally noticed."

Somehow, in the midst of finding herself wrapped in two sets of arms, the tension in the Great Hall didn't seem to matter quite so much. She felt like she was going to burst with just how loved she felt. But it was okay. It had to be, because she was a bookworm and if there was one thing that anyone knew about bookworms, it was that they always noticed things.

At least, they did eventually.

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An Ending
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