Chapter III
"Can you be my friend?"

The first day of classes had begun with a full dose of Arithmancy in the morning. For Hermione's final year, the class had dwindled to only four students: two Ravenclaws, a Slytherin and herself. To her delighted surprise, a new face was added to their meager group. Delila Wilkensen, the exchange student, had been patiently sitting when Hermione and the other students came to class. She could only assume that, being new to Hogwarts, Delila had come to class early to make sure she would find the room and not be late. With her nose diligently in the textbook, she no doubt was reviewing what of course she had already reviewed the night before. Commendable. It would have been something Hermione would have done herself.

It pleased Hermione that she could perhaps speak to someone on the subject of Arithmancy logic. The Slytherin, Daphne Greengrass, would of course never talk to a Gryffindor; and the twin Ravenclaws, Keegan and Kellar O'Keefe, who also happened to be sixth years, only spoke to each other. Hermione sat at the same long desk as Delila and the two girls shared polite smiles for barely a millisecond before having to dive head deep into magic numbers, as the professor began class immediately after the last student entered the room. No time for chit chat.

When class had ended, Hermione was anxious to say her hellos to Delila but the girl was gone before she turned to greet her. This startled Hermione for a moment, for she had not expected such an abrupt exit. Then again she could only assume that the girl had left quickly to get to her next class. So, with a bit of a disappointed look, Hermione walked the long way-- which was the only way from the Arithmancy classroom-- to her next class, Defense Against the Dark Arts.

It took Hermione nearly ten minutes to arrive at the DADA classroom. She had been thinking on the way about how strange her life had become since the very first day she entered Hogwarts. Finding out you can do magic and coming to a school to learn all about it was one thing, but to be involved in life and death battles at such a young age was entirely another. She was now in her final year at school, and at 17 she had dangerously circled the edge of death more times she cared to count. She had encountered creatures and had done things she had once only believed to be fairy tales. For the past six years, she had been living her own kind of fairy tale.

She amused herself thinking that in her fairy tale, had it been written, she would have been the knight in shining armor while Ron and Harry would have the roles of damsels in distress. Though she kept it to herself, she had always known that Ron and Harry would have been long dead if it weren't for her brains. Hermione remembered that she had been petrified for nearly the whole of a school year because Weasley and Potter were so terribly slow on the up take. Admittedly, the boys had their own talents, but theirs combined would still not come close to her own.

Hermione entered the class just about the time the rest of the latecomers came straggling in. Luckily class had not begun; students had still been gabbing away and the professor looked as if she had not even noticed that the students were in the room. Hermione slowly walked to the seat, keeping an eye on the new professor, and wondered what had taken her attention away from the class. Hermione observed that she was flipping through an absurdly large book on the podium and then bouncing back and forth from bookshelf to sideboard to podium. It was a rather curious sight. Buzzing about like a little bee, Professor Jenski looked to be in a world of her own, her mind focused only on what was before her. Was she working on something for the class? Was she ill prepared, perhaps? No, Hermione thought, the professor did not look frantic, just, well, not here.

It was an odd thing to see a professor behaving in such a way. Those she'd had throughout her years in Hogwarts were keen on beginning class exactly on time. Perhaps, Hermione thought as she searched for a clock, they were all early for class?

After a few moments she gave up her search for a timepiece: there was none to be seen. The young witch then glanced around the room. The class consisted of Gryffindors and Ravenclaws. Ron and Harry were sitting in the row across the aisle from hers, deep into a serious conversation. Hermione thought the subject was probably which witch had the best physical statistics. She also noticed Harry was trying really hard not to look at Professor Jenski. Having her presence taken for granted, Hermione had been witness to Harry's talk of a potential girlfriend, this glorious siren that turned out to be the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. Only Harry would mistake a grown woman for a seventh year. His glasses were in serious need of a new prescription. Hermione giggled to herself and removed her gaze from her friends.

Neville was sitting quietly in the front row next to a Ravenclaw girl who was passing notes to a boy in the same house two rows behind her. Seamus, Dean and Ravenclaw Anthony Goldstein sat behind Hermione; the three of them were chortling about something they had done over summer holidays. In the first row of Hermione's aisle sat the Patil sisters and another Ravenclaw. Hermione turned her head at the empty seat next to her.

Mandy Brocklehurst was off in America at Saint Petronilla, the magic school in Louisiana, just south of New Orleans. All Hermione knew about that school was that it was well hidden among the marsh islands somewhere around the Mississippi delta. It was built of moss-stone and enchanted cedar; its multiple buildings, which stood on massive stilts above the water, were all connected by bridges. The Quidditch pitch, interestingly enough, was also above water. The architecture of Saint Petronilla was so entirely different from the mediaeval style of Hogwarts, that Hermione wondered how Mandy was handling the adjustment.

The New Orleans school was named after the first witch (or wizard for that matter) to evoke a Patronus. As the story goes, a wizard king, whom she refused to marry, constantly harassed Petronilla. He then haunted her after his death and she finally frightened the ghost away with her Patronus, a fearsome archangel. Religious folk thought her to be a vessel of God and she later died as a martyr.

There were three other schools in North America and Hermione, of course, knew all about them. Lakewood was the New England school that had once been in Salem; because of all the witch hunts in the area, it had picked up, literally-- the school picked itself up, and moved to the plains of Maine. Gladstone was nestled deep in the Rocky Mountains of Montana in the direct vicinity of Glacier Peak. Atl Mazatzal, which from the Aztec loosely translates to "fertile land of the deer," was the magic school in Arizona. The school was situated in what once had been a crater, now lush with life in the middle of the desert. The Mazatzal Mountains and wilderness safely cradled its existence. It lay just south of the Painted Desert, with the Grand Canyon to the northwest.

Hermione stared at that empty seat beside her. The sweet pudgy Ravenclaw usually sat beside Hermione, but now she had the row all to herself. Did no one wish to sit next to her? Looking around she thought the others were too involved with themselves and their little cliques to even notice her sitting alone. Forbidding her mind to feel sorry for herself, Hermione brought her attention back onto the Dark Arts professor.

Professor Jenski was now standing in front of the podium as if she was waiting for something. Did she expect more students? Was she waiting for the class to settle? If so, why did she not speak up? Maybe the professor just did not care for the time running out on the clocks that were strangely absent from the classroom. Hermione shook her head, baffled at what the young professor could be thinking.

She took this time to give the professor a thorough once over. Her appearance was dramatically different from her awkward entrance during the sorting feast. She wore a robe that impressed Hermione. It looked almost like a cross between a kimono and stylish suit her mother would wear. It was black, or perhaps a rich navy, with thin threads of green and purple silk sewn through the fabric, which gave it a look of iridescence as she moved. It criss-crossed at the breast and tied in front at the waist. Professor Jenski had the knot tied off center, right above the left side of her hip. The sleeves had a subtle poof at shoulders giving the robes a distinctly feminine look without being overly precious. The fabric flowed loosely on the arms, much like common robes, but was cut sharp and sleek. The robe ended mid-thigh over navy pants that resembled the sleeves but had an even sleeker cut.

It was all fitted perfectly to the Professor's body, accenting her curves, but it remained tasteful and sophisticated. The best part of the outfit was her shoes. They were black and shiny with a pointy toe and a thin two and half inch heel. Hermione recognized them immediately as an expensive designer shoe. She'd eyed them while in London shopping with her mum. Her parents, of course, could not afford them, but she and her mother had fun trying them on anyway. For having such a high heel, they were surprisingly comfortable and looked absolutely fabulous on her modest feet. Hermione remembered strutting around the shoe store, feeling incredibly sexy. She looked at the Professor and just a tinge of jealously flowed in her aura. Hermione thought the Professor must be well off to afford such shoes, let alone such fine threads.

Hermione then could not resist keeping her eyes away from the Professor's hair. Having temperamental hair herself, the young witch often observed other women's hair and styles. She recalled the frizzy mess that first night; looking at her now, it was just a frizzy memory. Professor Jenski's hair was fine, had a soft wave to it, and ended just between her shoulder blades. The color was a striking mix of blonds that Hermione had never seen. Knowing that the Professor came from the Arizona school, she inferred that the dramatic highlights were from the desert sun. The near platinum strands mixed with light auburns and mousy blonds. She wore it long with some pinned back away from her sun-kissed face.

Hermione noticed the Professor's mouth curling, ever so sly, at the corners. The young witch suddenly had the distinct impression that Professor Jenski was planning something. The Dark Arts professor had watched the class this whole time, patiently waiting for something, and it seemed that something was about to come. Hermione straightened herself in an attempt to prepare herself for whatever was about to happen.

At that moment, Delila came out of the office in front of the classroom and rushed down those stairs on which Gilderoy Lockhart had dramatically made his entrance years ago. She handed the Professor a wand and folded paper, and rushed away to find a seat, which to Hermione's delight was next to hers. The Professor read the note quickly and tucked it into a well-hidden pocket at her waist.

Delila gave Hermione a wink, and then covered her face with her hands. Before she had the chance to ask what was going on, from the corner of her eye, Hermione saw Professor Jenski step forward, raise her wand to the ceiling, and firmly bellow "Kaoluxluco!" The next instant Hermione was blind.

Blink. Blink-blink. Blink. All Hermione could see was, well, nothing. She tried to squint through the darkness and blink out the flash of light fried on her retina. She could feel the panic in the air and could hear the chaos around her. Two girls screamed as they bumped into each other; a few students shouted What Happened? or I'm Blind!;wands dropped and rolled; more bodies crashed into things and each other. She also heard the unmistaken crack of someone stepping on Harry's glasses.

Suddenly Hermione felt hands on her arms. She stiffened herself at the shock of someone touching her, but let the person guide her to the desk. A quill was placed in her hand and she felt for the parchment on the desktop. She then heard Professor Jenski's heels on the floor and the squeaky roll of the portable chalkboard.

The Professor then spoke in a firm voice over the noise of the crowd. "What you are experiencing is the blinding flash curse. The only way to battle the curse is to remain calm. Remain. Calm." As the students slowly began to settle she lowered her voice. Hermione blinked continuously as her vision began to form shadows of objects through phantoms of the flash. She heard the chalk upon the board as the professor continued.

"Kay-OH-loox-loo-ko," Professor Jenski wrote the word on the board as she pronounced it then spoke quickly. "Kao, from the Latin meaning chaos, and lux lucis meaning light. In other words 'the light of chaos'. "

Hermione's vision was coming back to her. She heard relieved sighs of the others as their vision came back as well. Still half blind from the negative of the flash upon her retina, she frantically wrote as the professor spoke.

"The blinding flash curse is a fantastic spell that can be used for both offense and defense. Blind your enemies as you ambush them or blind them as you distract them or even run away." The Professor wrote the words offense and defense on the board. "This spell has several damaging levels, which on its lowest level temporarily blinds its target or targets and on its final level permanently blinds its target. The shock to the system causes a panic in its victim, hence the meaning, light of chaos."

Hermione's vision had returned but she still felt like she needed sunglasses. With that thought she turned to look at Ron and Harry. Harry was frowning and squinting at his broken glasses. Ron patted him on the back to console him as he furiously scribbled his notes.

"It can be used on a group or focused to a single person." She drew an arrow from the words offense and defense to the words many and one. "If traveling in a team do not, I repeat, do not let more than one person cast the chaos light spell, for such a mistake has dire consequences." She wrote for singular use only and consequences, underlining the word several times. "It will not only render the castors blind, but future offspring may be born blind as well. Severe, yet it is fact."

Hermione saw the Professor step away from the board and address the class. "Welcome, students, to Defense Against the Dark Arts! My name is Ananke Jenski, and y'all can call me Professor!"

"Geez, Harry, must I do everything for you?" It was the end of the first day of classes and everyone had migrated to the dining hall. Hermione had just taken her seat next to Ron and Harry. Potter turned to greet her, and to her astonishment Harry's glasses were still cracked and broken, mended together with spell-o-tape.

"Well, it's just that you do everything so well, Hermione." Harry grinned and put his hands on her shoulders. "Think of it as an 'oh-madge' to your indispensability."

Hermione rolled her eyes in response to Harry's praise of her. She felt she was being mocked and wanted to slap him. But one look at his expression told Hermione that he was being sincere in his own way. Then she wanted to slap him out of his stupidity.

Hermione corrected his dreadful mispronunciation. "An homage to my indispensability? Harry, that doesn't even make sense." She removed his arms from her shoulders and plopped a helping of butternut squash on her plate.

"Besides," Hermione continued, "it is more an example of your idiocy, you going around all day waiting for me to fix your bloomin' glasses." It was such a ridiculous notion to Hermione, to wait all day for someone else to fix something that could be repaired with a simple spell. Had Harry and Ron grown so dependent on her? Was it laziness? Whatever it was, it certainly did not please her.

Hermione was in a huff and did not realize that she'd filled her plate with several helpings of only the squash. "It is an elementary spell, Harry. First years can do it. In fact I did it even before starting our very first class!" She put her plate so heavily on the table that a crack formed under the pressure of the orangey mush. She looked at Harry, who still had that silly grin upon his face. Though he looked comical sporting those broken glasses, Hermione was not laughing. "Seven years have passed, Harry. I think you are caught up to me in my first year by now."

It was as if he hadn't heard anything she'd said. Harry merely continued to grin and then fluttered his eyelashes beneath his cracked lens. "If you please, Hermione, I would be ever so grateful."

Ron lunged his head forward, sharing space with Harry's. "Yeah, Hermione, he's been looking like a dork all day!" Ron laughed pointing a finger at Harry's glasses. "This crack matches his scar! It looks pretty ridiculous!"

This was unbelievable! Had they heard her at all? Did they ever? Perhaps this was all some sort of joke at her expense. Hermione was not amused. "What about you Ron? You let your best friend walk around the school like that? It's you who should fix them anyway, you're the one who stepped on them."

Harry pushed Ron's face away with his hand as the red head laughed. "Aw come now, Hermione, it's like a tradition!" He fluttered his lashes again. "Please? It is our final year at Hogwarts; it'll probably be the last time you'll be able to do it. Please, Hermione? For old times sake?"

Both boys looked at her with puppy dog eyes. She knew them all too well and could read their thoughts as easily as a charm book. It was obvious to her now. Both of them saw this as some sort of tradition; they thought that if anyone but Hermione would fix Harry's glasses, it would be some sort of bad luck-- a black mark for the rest of the year.

Hermione released a heavy breath as she gave up the argument. She knew they wouldn't let up and Harry did look awful silly. She allowed herself to see the humor and it brought a bit of a smile to her face. "Oh, OK, for tradition's sake." Hermione pointed her wand at Harry's glasses. "Occulus Reparo!" In a flash of spell-o-tape vanishing from existence, Harry's glasses were fixed.

"Fantastic! I can see better than ever!" Harry examined Hermione's work then slipped the fixed pair back on his nose. Hermione smiled, half expecting some silly cheers from the boys or an impression of a roaring crowd from Ron. To her bitter disappointment both boys only turned to each other without a second thought, falling back into whatever conversation they'd been having all day.

Hermione couldn't believe it. Not even a simple thank you! Ron and Harry's attention returned to each other, as if they couldn't bear one minute away from each other's voices. This was how it had always been. She was always the forgotten shadow, always taken for granted. She pursed her lips. Hermione was just too upset to say anything. She didn't think they'd take her seriously anyway. Or worse, they wouldn't even care.

Hermione turned towards the table and stared at her full plate of squash. She started to feel like that squash, glopped and spread so absent-mindedly. She pushed it away angrily, causing the plate to finally break. "Perfect. Just perfect." She whipped her head around so hard her hair slapped Neville in the face. Hermione stood quickly and left the table in a snit, her face twisting in a positively perturbed scowl.

"Her-Hermione, where are you off too?" Neville called to her as she stormed away.

"Aw, don't worry about her, Nev," Ron said to him, waving a dismissive hand in the air. "She's probably off to the library to do all of the reading that's not due 'til Christmas."

"You sure, Ron? She looked kind of mad." Ron didn't even hear Neville speak again. His concentration was only on the discussion at hand. All day Potter and Weasley had been talking about girls, the Cannons and, more importantly, this year's plans for Quidditch. Ron was team captain now, and had become worse than Oliver Wood at creating game plans. Harry didn't mind, for the whole of his holiday had been spent without any magic and especially Quidditch. Besides, it was their final year; they had to graduate with a house cup win under their belts. They were also hoping for a clean sweep of wins across the board.

Neville shook his head at Ron and Harry's self-involvement. He knew precisely how Hermione was feeling. That sort of dismissal wasn't anything new to Neville. He looked after Hermione, feeling sorry for her as she stormed down the aisle. A frown formed on his face as he saw Hermione shove through the space between Malfoy and one of the exchange students.

"Oy!" Malfoy scoffed as he was pushed aside by Hermione's shoulder. "Have you been hanging around with Potter too much, Granger? Do you need glasses, too?"

"Oh, shove it, Malfoy!" Hermione hollered at him, without looking back.

Draco waved off her insolence, not wanting to deal with the temperamental Gryffindor. He shoved his hands in his pockets and continued to walk down the aisle to the Slytherin table. Robert Blackcrow walked with him quietly, with an expression that did not reveal his thoughts.

"That's a Gryffindor for you," Draco told Robert. "They think they can do anything they want to us Slytherins and not suffer the consequences." They passed by Ron and Harry, who took a break from their conversation to give Draco dirty looks. Draco just rolled his eyes at them, wondering when those two would come up with anything new.

"That Granger's also part of the Saint Potter Club. They all think they have the right to do anything they want just because they went up against You-Know-Who a couple of times. " Draco walked all the way up to the end of the table, near the faculty table. Robert followed and quietly listened to Malfoy. "Their 'battles' were nothing but an arm wrestling match to Ol' Snake Eyes. With that Gryffindor stupidity that they think is courage, they'll be sure to get their due."

The two Slytherins sat between a group of first and second years. The rest of the upperclassmen were sitting down at the other end; the lot of them was giving Draco the eye. Robert observed this, and looked back to the scowl upon Malfoy's face. Draco was sporting a black eye, an injury caused by the blinding curse during their last class. From the way the Slytherins were eyeing each other, Draco's black eye was no accident. But to his merit, Draco had not run to Madam Pomfrey to get it healed. He wore his black eye defiantly to show the others he wasn't afraid of them.

The truth was, he was quaking in his boots. The past couple of years had not been a picnic in the Malfoy house. It was widely known that Malfoy's father had been sent to Azkaban. If that wasn't enough, the Ministry had seized all of Lucius' assets, including Malfoy Manor. Luckily, Narcissa, Draco's mother, had her own accounts that fell under the Black name and not that of Malfoy.

To Narcissa, Lucius' absence was a gift; she'd been able to leave the clutches of the Malfoys under a good excuse and then buy her own home away from the Dark Lord's followers. She wanted her son away from that darkness and did all she could to keep him away, including forbidding Draco to visit his friends-- at least during the holidays. During school years she had no control over what her son would do and he would still keep with his Slytherin friends.

At first Malfoy thought his mother was embarrassed about what had happened to his father. Their name had been spilled all over the wizard press for weeks and the trial was finished with a swift and heavy hand. Lucius Malfoy was to spend the rest of his life in Azkaban for the crimes he had committed in the Dark Lord's name. Draco remembered the smug grin his father had worn, as if the man thought there was no way he would have to spend any of his sentence in Azkaban, let alone set foot into the terrible prison. Lucius had thought his fellow Death Eaters would spring him or ambush the escorts that led him to Azkaban. That had been two years ago. Save for Draco and his mother, no one had even visited him.

Still and all, his mother's embarrassment wasn't enough to keep Draco away from his friends and the lure of becoming a Death Eater. He swore his vengeance on behalf of his father, who was rotting away in prison. There wasn't any excuse good enough for Draco for his mother's bizarre behavior. Then one day, she'd told him the truth. That day was when he'd lost all desire to follow in his father's footsteps. That day changed his life.

The days and months that followed were spent in seclusion; and more and more inventive excuses were given to his former friends as to why he couldn't visit or hadn't written. Soon it was known in the dark circles that Malfoy shunned his destiny. He stopped visiting his father and cut off all contact with everyone he'd ever cared to know.

Slowly but surely Draco began receiving malicious threats. With the help of his mother and the few house elves they had, they constructed layers upon layers of magical traps and barriers to protect them in their little house on the hill. Well, it was little compared to Malfoy Manor; it still boasted several bedchambers, a dining hall, a massive study and even an indoor Quidditch practice pitch. Nevertheless, Draco's summer days were spent doing nothing but studying spells and curses and chasing a snitch in his indoor pitch. His nights were spent keeping watch, since insomnia was his new best friend.

Draco was thankful for the start of the new year. He couldn't wait to get to Hogwarts for he knew it would be the only place he'd be truly safe. He had no love for Dumbledore-- in fact he didn't have any love for anyone at Hogwarts-- but he knew the old purple wizard would protect him from any lethal harm. Minor abuse couldn't be helped, but at least Draco knew he wouldn't be torn to shreds.

His only worry, besides his own hide, was for his mother. She was alone now in the new house, protected only by the magic barricades and loyal house elves. Draco took comfort in the fact that his mother was less a prize than he. He knew it was him whom they wanted dead. Hurting Narcissa would only serve to bring Draco to a vicious rage against the Death Eaters. He would no doubt sell them out before doing all he could to destroy them. He also knew, despite his offense against the Dark Order, they were hopeful for his return, whether voluntary or encouraged by wicked means.

The black eye was merely a kiss compared to the beatings he was anticipating. Yet he was ready for them. He was dead scared and prayed for easy hands or a steely hide, but he was ready for whatever his former friends could dish out. There was no way he was going back to the Death Eaters. Hell would have him first.

Draco finally removed his eyes from the future Death Eaters at the other end of the long dining table. He looked at Robert, who was sitting directly across from him. Eyes the color of earth that looked to have lived a thousand lives stared kindly back at Draco from a young stoic face. Being Prefect, Draco was volunteered to show the exchange student around. He gladly did so. It served as a good distraction and kept him away from Slytherin house for at least one evening. He was even able to sleep, for the others were smart enough not to try anything that first night.

Robert and Draco happened to share most classes and had shared all this first day. Draco found the American student quiet and patient and this pleased him. Blackcrow's calm energy was also infectious. It stayed Draco's nerves, holding them at a level that would keep the fill of his stomach from escaping through his mouth.

Malfoy was also anxious for a friend, someone other than a house elf to talk to. Blackcrow seemed to be a willing candidate, though only time would tell. So far the Navajo had listened patiently to Draco and spoke only when he felt he needed to or when asked a direct question. In fact, Malfoy only knew Blackcrow was a Navajo because he'd asked.

"My tribe is what you would know as Navajo. My ancestors were of the Sobaipuri, now spread with the ghost wind," had been Robert's reply.

Malfoy felt comfortable with Blackcrow. Perhaps it was because he was new and nothing like his old friends. Perhaps it was because he seemed not to pass judgment on Draco. Perhaps it was Blackcrow's mysterious air. Whatever it was, Draco took a liking to him right away. He also had this feeling-- one that could only be described as strange-- that there was something about this new Slytherin. Something, Draco thought, that would be to his own advantage.

The cry of a hungry stomach put Malfoy's hands in motion to help himself to supper. He did not speak as he ate; Draco was concentrating on filling his angry appetite. His thoughts eventually trailed to Quidditch. He was captain now, and hoped that the others would shed their animosity for him during Quidditch practice and games.

Malfoy had been practicing all summer and had become far better than he had ever been. He had a focus he'd never had before, and anything else, including Potter, would simply be an obstacle to overcome to get that snitch. It was going to be a glorious gaming season for Slytherin if all went well. As it stood, he needed fresh blood to replace those who had graduated.

Draco announced to the young students around him, "Quidditch try-outs will be held at the end of the week. Anyone who is ready, willing and able ought to come. You, blond girl." A small second year looked at Malfoy with wide eyes. His fellow classmates might have spurned Draco, but the underclassmen still showed their respect or fear. "Macomby isn't it?"

"Yes, Ceciley Macomby." The girl nodded.

"I hear you're rather quick on the broom," Draco said. " I need a chaser."

"B-But girls aren't allowed on the team," the towhead said in a small voice.

"Just because we haven't had any girls, doesn't mean they aren't allowed. You're quick and nimble; it's what I need. I better see you at try-outs!" Draco commanded.

"Yes sir, Malfoy, sir." The girl blushed as her girlfriends around her gushed at the invitation.

Malfoy looked at Blackcrow and considered him as he stuffed a fork-full of beef into his mouth. "How about you, Blackcrow? You play Quidditch?"

With a quick nod of his head, he replied, "I am a proud keeper of the Mazatzal Sun Gods."

Draco's lips curled to a winning smile. "Excellent! I will have you as Slytherin's newest keeper."

Blackcrow returned a smile to Malfoy and bowed his head in a gesture of gratitude. He brought his attention to his full plate and continued with his supper. Malfoy was pleased. This was going to be a banner year for the Slytherin Quidditch team. With new skill and a whole new attitude, Draco thought Slytherin would triumph unbeaten at the end of the year.

Professor Snape had come to into the dining hall with the tiny Professor of Charms floating next to him. "Granted, numbering so few, the first years would have to be taught their classes as a whole. There are certainly not enough to split them by houses," Snape was saying to Flitwick.

"Oh yes, of course, Professor Snape, I was indeed getting to that point. I also meant to say I am rather fond of the small number. It leaves so much room for unity among the houses." Flitwick flitted his toes, his voice full of cheer. "Perhaps one day they will lead by example!"

"There is always that possibility." Snape's dry tone clashed against the cheerful Flitwick. It was an interesting sight, watching the two professors walking down the aisle. One was dark, tall and full of sneer. The other was small and full of light and cheer. They stood on opposite ends of the spectrum, but each was as powerful as the other. Snape continued to speak as they approached the head table. "I am rather fond of the small number as well."

"Oh, Professor Snape?" Flitwick was beside himself that the professor of tooth and claw could be softening his edge. Could Severus be agreeing with him? Flitwick twitched his moustache in delightful anticipation --- Snape might possibly share his view.

"Yes, Professor Flitwick," Snape answered, turning to Flitwick, his eyes narrowing in his sockets, " I could only ever stand teaching first-years in one sitting anyway." Professor Snape abruptly turned on his heel and continued to his left. He walked around the faculty table to his seat. Flitwick was left floating with a sour expression on his face. After a moment the tiny professor shook his head, wondering why he would have thought any cheerful word would come out of Snape.

Snape pulled his chair away from the table, only to find the new DADA teacher already sitting in the chair beside his own. He had hoped that the woman would be late again so that his meal could be taken without the presence of yet another feeble-minded teacher who had usurped his position. Thankfully, Dumbledore had her attention. Snape noticed that at least this time she had polished herself up, resembling a teacher rather than a rag doll.

Snape made no gesture to greet Professor Jenski, or anyone else for that matter. His behavior did not escape Dumbledore's attention. The Headmaster eyed the Potions Master for a brief moment before letting the matter go. Remembering their last encounter, he wished for no excuse for another argument. He left Snape to his supper without comment.

Professor Snape sat down and helped himself to a bowl of beet soup. It was one of his favorites, and the house elves made sure to have it served at the dining table at least twice a week. He was a man of picky tastes. Seldom would he try anything new. The Potions Master was set in his ways and his routine. It was the simple things that kept him in focus. It was in the simple things that he found his pleasure.

Professor Snape kept to himself as he ate, speaking to no one and hearing no one. There was no one worth talking to anyway. In fact he preferred to use his meal times to actually eat, not for a social hour. He could enjoy his meal, and then quickly be off to his work rooms or chambers for whatever he needed to do. He would make his supper time appearance and leave. Try as often as he might, almost always someone would trap him into a conversation. Most times it would be Dumbledore or McGonagall, and out of respect would he humour them by holding up his end of the conversation. This time, however, it was Malfoy.

"Pardon me, Professor Snape." A student's voice found Snape's ear. Someone was addressing him. He brought his eyes up from his bowl, making a show of his annoyance. He saw the platinum haired young man standing before him with eager eyes. It was his house prefect, Draco Malfoy. Snape put his bowl down and wiped his mouth.

"Yes, Mr. Malfoy?" With a serpentine tongue, Snape acknowledged him. It was then Snape noticed Draco's black eye. Snape raised a brow at this but did not comment. He knew of Draco's choice of desertion - perhaps this was the beginning of his punishment. The fact that the bruise was not healed or glamoured to hide said something about Draco. Or perhaps the boy was just too afraid for wands to go anywhere near his pretty face, even if they were for healing.

Draco stepped forward. Robert Blackcrow was standing next to him. "Sir, I have found a new keeper." He gestured to Blackcrow with a self-satisfied smile. It was only the end of the first day and already he had found a keeper. Draco was sure his Head of House would be pleased. However, Professor Snape was a terribly hard man to please.

"Have you now, Malfoy?" Snape's inquisitive eye roamed over Blackcrow. He had briefly met him during his introduction to Slytherin House. The impression Snape got from the young man was that he was indeed quiet and patient. It was a rare Slytherin quality that could prove to be sinister. It hinted at a cold and calculating nature found only in the best of Slytherins, much like himself. Then again, Robert Blackcrow was one of those rare ones, one of those strange breeds in which the very seed of magic runs in the blood. Blackcrow might only have been wearing a mask that would fit him well within the walls of Slytherin. Snape stared Blackcrow down but the young man did not stir beneath his skin.

Malfoy cleared his throat and answered his Head of House. "Blackcrow here was keeper at his school." He mustered enough confidence to stand by his choice and sell the idea of him to Professor Snape. "Don't even need to train him up!"

"I appreciate your enthusiasm, Malfoy, but you know nothing of the boy-- only that which he has told you. You have no idea what he is or is not capable of. Are you so eager that someone's word is worth more than proof?" Snape crossed his arms. "Tell, me Malfoy, have you even seen the boy fly?"

"Er, no, but I am sure he would do well." Draco straightened himself up. He felt himself begin to cower beneath Snape's intense eye but forbade himself to do so.

"Do you now, Draco Malfoy? You vouch for someone you have just met?" Snape still stared down at Draco. However, he was impressed at his undaunted stance. Snape wondered how long it would last. How long would it be until Malfoy was brought down to a whimper?

Suddenly a new voice chimed in. "He would not be making a mistake to vouch for Bobby, Professor Snape." Professor Jenski smiled at Snape as she spoke. "Bobby is an excellent keeper! Because of him the Sun Gods have remained unbeaten since his arrival at Mazatzal." She raised a fist and shook it. Snape assume that it was part of some cheer from the American school. "Za! Zha!" Jenski exclaimed and shook her fist once more.

"Do you always make it a point to interrupt House business?" Snape spoke with contempt, but did not look at Jenski. He did not need an answer: of course she would stick her nose into other people's business. How very American of her.

"If it involves one of my students, then the answer is yes." She looked at Snape, but he would not take his eyes off the students below. Ana had no idea why the potions professor had taken such a tone with her. However, from the look of the scowl deeply embedded into the man's face, she concluded that it was merely his disposition.

Therefore Ana had no reason not to continue, "Bobby is an exceptional Quidditch player. Any team would be lucky to have him as a member, including yours, Professor Snape." She turned her eyes to Bobby Blackcrow and gave him a wink. It was a gesture that told him that she had his back. He knew that Miss Jenski could be protective of her students. Blackcrow in turn smiled only with his eyes and bowed his head in that gesture of thanks.

Snape, nevertheless, remained obtuse and foreboding. Slowly he turned to the Dark Arts professor. His dark eyes narrowed maliciously in her direction. His voice was flat but not without scorn. "As far as I am concerned your opinion does not matter."

Professor Jenski's eyes widened and her mouth opened but nothing was said. She only stared back at him in dismay. Snape let his gaze linger for a moment longer before turning back to Draco.

"Malfoy, despite Blackcrow's so-called experience and talent, you will have him try out like the rest."

Professor Jenski shook off the shock of Snape's comment. She did not care for his rude behavior and decided to pay no mind to it. Like dirt off her shoulder she brushed it off and spoke to Snape's Slytherin Prefect. "I promise you will not be disappointed in Bobby, Mr. Malfoy."

Draco nodded and both boys made to leave. "Oh and Draco," Jenski said as she smiled at him, "nice shiner! Remember to use your senses! Especially in my class. Next time duck when you hear a fist coming!"

Draco did not know how to react. His eyes blinked between the pleasant smile of the DADA professor and the flaring nostrils of the Potions Master. He wasn't sure if he was being insulted or if it would be all right to laugh. Then again, the real cause of his black eye was not that funny. He answered with a simple Yes, Professor and moved on. As they walked, Draco leaned close to Blackcrow and said quietly, "Don't worry about Snape, he's a hard ass—it's just the way he is. You're the new keeper for sure."

The potions master had begun to take his leave as well. He stood but decided he could not leave before making one final comment to the Darks Arts professor. "I suggest, Professor Jenski," -- she looked up at him curious to hear what arrogant unpleasantries he would dish out next--- " that you keep your nose to your own business and a better eye on your students. It is the first day of classes and already you have a casualty. A first in Hogwarts' history." He stared down at her through his dark tunneled eyes.

Professor Jenski straightened herself and stared back at him, challenging his wicked glance. It was the only way she could respond. She did not wish to return with equal rudeness, but she felt she had the right to defend herself. Snape then took a step forward against her challenge. He looked down at her with such a cold stare it gave her the chills.

He hovered maliciously at the edge of her personal space; then, like the startling roar of a thunderclap, swiftly turned on his heel and walked away. Snape did not bother to parade down the aisle of the Great Hall and instead left by the door behind the head table. Ana could do nothing but stare at Snape as he left. She spoke to Dumbledore but still looked on to the exit. "My goodness! Is he always like that?"

"My dear, he is a complicated man. However, to answer your question: Yes. Unfortunately, for the most part he is." Dumbledore patted her shoulder. "Here have a lemon-fizzer. It tickles the nose."

Ron was right; Hermione had gone to the library. But he was wrong about the reason she'd gone there. She was too upset to read about anything, especially anything academic. She had come to the library because it was quiet, because she could get lost in it and no one would bother her. Hermione angrily sat on a window seat and rubbed her face in her hands. No, she was not going to cry. Ron and Harry were not worth her tears.

Taking her head out of her hands, she looked around the library. There were only a handful of diligent students and Madam Pince. Hermione stood up and shook her anger away as best she could. Her schoolbooks had been left in the Gryffindor common room and she wasn't about to go all the way over there. Besides, it wasn't worth the risk of running into Potter and Weasley.

Hermione walked down the bookshelf aisles, hoping to find something that could distract her from her lingering anger. As she rounded the corner of the third aisle, she stopped. Down the aisle, past the rest of the bookshelves, she saw Delila sitting on another window seat reading. Hermione smiled. Now was her chance. The quiet of the library provided little distraction and there was nowhere else to go that needed their presence. Hermione was finally going to properly introduce herself.

Approaching the new Ravenclaw she instantly recognized the book Delila was reading. It was Hogwarts: A History. Hermione smiled and knew she would get along with her easily. Providence had sent her someone, someone who she could truly call friend.

Hermione stood in front of her beaming her best smile. "Hello. We both are in Arithmancy and share the same DADA class."

Delila looked up from the very large book on her lap. "Yes, I know. I was there as well."

"Yes, of course." Hermione gave a chuckle. "Oh, where are my manners." She then put out her hand. "I'm Hermione Granger."

"Yes, I know who you are." Delila closed the book with a loud clap of the pages coming together. "You are the bane of my existence."

Upcoming:

Chapter 4:

Professor Jenski discusses her and Atl Mazatzal's history among the staff while Snape listens on in aversion. Ron and Harry notice someone missing. Draco prepares for the Quidditch season.