It only hurts when I'm breathing
My heart only breaks when it's beating
My dreams only die when I'm dreaming
So I hold my breath - to forget
- Shania Twain, It Only Hurts
Hermione knew she had flaws. Everybody did, some moreso than others (though she was certainly not about to put any names to those categories), and some knew their own flaws and some didn't. Hermione knew hers very well – she was bossy and a nag, a know-it all, somewhat obsessive, and would sooner be buried in hot coals than admit she was wrong. But she was not, never had been, and never would be a coward. So she raised her chin and strode into the great hall as if she were leading an army.
It seemed to take a moment for the students assembled for breakfast to figure out who she was, but by the time she got to the Gryffindor table the conversation in the room had dropped to a whisper level and she could feel hundreds of eyes on her back. She ignored them all, however, and sat down in her usual place. "Good morning, gentlemen," she said to Ron and Harry, and reached for the scones.
The boys, predictably, stared like fish.
"Who are you?" asked Ron.
"Hermione," she replied, as if she'd expected them to know this very well – which she had. The way gossip traveled at Hogwarts, everybody had probably heard the story by now and most of them had probably heard more of it than she had.
Some silence greeted this revelation.
"I thought you'd be blonde," said Ron finally.
"I am," said Hermione in her best no-nonsense voice. "I looked up a hairstyling spell – I'm not about to walk around looking like a Malfoy. Now," she went on, in the firm belief that the best thing for now would be to get matters back to normal as quickly as possible, "as I was going to tell you last night before Mr. Malfoy's revealing charm so rudely interrupted us, this is our last year at Hogwarts and we do have NEWTS. So, since I know you two will never do it yourselves..." she reached into her bag, "I have prepared study schedules for all three of us."
Ron and Harry looked at each other.
"Ye-ep," said Ron, filling his mouth with toast. "'At's 'Er'm'ne, a'ight."
After that, things were quite normal indeed... although Hermione noticed that the boys were keeping their eyes on their breakfasts while they talked to her. She supposed it was probably odd for them, seeing her with a different face. Heaven knew it was bizarre for her when she looked in the mirror. Well, they'd get accustomed to it... though hopefully, she could figure out a way to set things right, and then they wouldn't have to.
She was midway through explaining how she'd allotted extra study time for the boys because they did so poorly in divination when she realized somebody was standing behind her – the boys were now looking past her at a point in space behind her head, and something there was casting a sudden shadow. Hermione looked up into the smiling friendly face of Pansy Parkinson.
Pansy Parkinson's face being friendly and smiling was a new and bizarre experience.
"Can I help you?" asked Hermione.
"Aurelia." Pansy smiled. "Why don't you come and sit with us?"
Hermione rather suspected that the next few days of her life would be full of long silences, and here was another of them. She thought for a moment about how to best respond to that, and eventually decided that all she could do was pretend it never happened. She turned back to the boys.
"As I was saying," she said, "you really do need to focus this year. You can't coast through on making things up forever!"
"It's worked so far," said Harry, who was apparently more than happy to join in on ignoring Pansy.
"'Sides," Ron added, mouth still full. "'F'ss'r F'rnz s'z 'at nuffin's c'rt'n. So an'fin' we m'k 'p..."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Honestly, Ron," she said, "if you're going to talk, take your snout out of the trough!"
"Are you sure you wouldn't rather come sit with us?" asked Pansy.
Hermione looked up – the Slytherin girl was still there. "I'm sorry," she said, "were you talking to me?"
"Of course I am," said Pansy. "Who else would I be talking to?"
"Well, I was under the impression that you were talking to somebody named Aurelia," said Hermione. "And I'm very sorry, but there's nobody by that name at this table. Perhaps you're simply mistaken. Good morning."
Pansy stared at her a moment, then turned and stamped off, muttering "bitch," under her breath.
Pleased, Hermione turned back to her friends. "I've also added extra time for Potions," she said, "since I know you're both abysmal at it."
"Mffm," said Ron.
"So where in this do we get to sleep?" asked Harry.
"Very funny!" Hermione snapped. "If either of you ever do become aurors, it'll only be because I took charge of your educations for you – you do realize that, right?"
To general disgust, their first class of the year was potions – with the Slytherins of course. Hermione kept up her resolution to behave as if nothing were wrong in the world and walked in, head high, to sit down between Harry and Ron, as per standard procedure. Since Professor Snape wasn't in the room yet, the students sat and chatted among themselves. Out of the corner of her eye, Hermione saw Pansy whispering with Millie Bulstrode and Daphne Greengrass – no doubt telling them had had happened at breakfast. Well, Pansy could tell anybody anything she liked. Hermione had never cared what Slytherins thought of her, and was not about to start now.
As for certain people who did care very much what others thought of him... at first, Hermione really did wonder if he were coming. He had not yet arrived when Professor Snape swept into the room in fluttering black robes that had always reminded Hermione of a rather greasy Ringwraith. The Professor went up to the blackboard and began immediately to write on it; the students pulled out their notebooks and everybody's head bent to get the lesson written down... and only then did Draco slink into the room.
Snape did not look up, merely said, "five points from Slytherin for your tardiness, Mr. Granger."
Draco winced and sat down without answering, in his usual place between Crabbe and Goyle. The two hulking boys exchanged a glance over the top of his head, then got up and moved to a pair of empty desks at the back of the room. Hermione waited for Professor Snape to take another five points off for the disturbance, but he didn't.
"Today," Snape said, "we will be brewing truth potions. So provided that you are all mature enough to do so without direction from me, please choose a partner and open your textbooks to page eighty-eight."
Chairs scraped across the tile as everybody got up to begin getting into pairs. Millicent Bulstrode immediately snagged Daphne Greengrass, and Crabbe and Goyle, being right next to one another, paired up immediately. Blaise Zabini went with Gryffindor's Cassie Moss, whom he'd been dating all last year, and that left only Draco and Pansy without partners. Pansy – who'd been making out with Draco in the prefects' coach just yesterday – looked at him as if he were some kind of insect, then looked at the Gryffindors.
"Neville!" she exclaimed. "Why don't you go with me?"
Poor Neville Longbottom just nodded mutely, clearly too terrified of Pansy to disagree.
Hermione shook her head – this was absurd! She'd never had a high opinion of Slytherins, but it was downright painful seeing just how shallow they really were. She rolled her eyes, grabbed her books, got up, and went to sit with Draco.
"I will be your partner," she declared.
"Gosh, thanks," he said sarcastically.
"You're welcome," Hermione told him primly.
"That's quite enough noise," said Professor Snape. "Now, can somebody tell me, what is the purpose of the crushed corundum in the mixture?"
Hermione raised her hand. "Oh," she said.
"Miss Malfoy," said Snape.
For a moment, Hermione was in literal pain trying to decide how to respond – it had never occurred to her that a teacher might try to talk to her as Pansy had at breakfast. If she didn't respond, she'd be in trouble, but if she did... after a few seconds of agony, she simply kept her hand in the air.
In the end, it was Draco who finally cracked. "Oh, just answer him!" he snapped. "You're being an idiot."
"Mr. Granger," said Snape. "Did I give you permission to speak?"
Draco glared at the table and didn't answer.
"Five points from Slytherin for talking out of turn," said Snape. "Miss Malfoy, are you going to answer the question?"
Hermione simply sat there with her hand up.
"Ten points from Gryffindor for offering information you did not have," said Snape. "Now – perhaps somebody who is not having an identity crisis can tell me what the crushed corundum is for?"
The rest of the class was, in a similar vein, torture. Hermione had never thought of potions as a favourite, but she could not recall a single class period she'd hated more. Snape refused to take the hint that she wasn't going to answer to 'Miss Malfoy' and continued to call her that, and eventually she was forced to stop raising her hand because the Gryffindors were getting visibly angry at her for losing them so many points. The Slytherins looked pretty disgusted, too, though she suspected not for the same reason.
When class was over, she was definitely complaining to Dumbledore.
Draco refused to do a thing all class. He simply sat there looking despondent, and Hermione was forced to brew their truth potion all by herself. She hoped Snape noticed – she pitied him, but not enough to let him take credit for work he hadn't done. On the way out of the classroom, she whispered to him: "if you ever want to have a partner in class again, you'd better do something next time."
"I'll wreck it," he replied sullenly.
"Don't be ridiculous," said Hermione. "All you have to do is concentrate..."
"I'll wreck it," Draco repeated. "I've never been any good at magic, and now I know why."
Hermione had heard a great many absurd things in the last twenty-four hours, but this one, she decided, was definitely in the top ten. "Don't be an arse," she said. "You're very good at magic. You've had the second-highest marks in our year the entire time you've been at Hogwarts."
"Second highest," said Draco. "After you."
"Well, I don't mean to toot my own horn," said Hermione, "but McGonagall says I'm not good at magic, I'm exceptional at it. So perhaps..."
"It's because you're a Malfoy," said Draco.
"It's because I study," snapped Hermione. "Neville's a Longbottom – that doesn't make him good at potions!"
"He's only bad at it to spite Snape," Draco told her.
The idea of Neville being spiteful, even unintentionally, almost made Hermione laugh out loud. "Listen, Draco," she began.
"Mr. Malfoy and Miss Granger?" asked a voice.
The two of them looked up – there was Professor McGonagall.
"Don't call me that," said Draco, but it said it so softly that the deputy headmistress probably didn't hear – or if she did, she didn't show it.
"Yes, Professor?" asked Hermione."You two had better come with me," said the professor. "Your parents are here. All of them." And it didn't take the dubious tone of her voice to tell Hermione that whatever followed was not going to be fun at all.