Chapter 1 – in which there is an explosion in the potions laboratories
Hermione cursed, wondering why she had ever taken up this job in the first place. She reminded herself that Potions was and always had been her favourite subject, and that there was no way on this Earth that she was going to let that snarky git of a man, Severus Snape, limit her future.
He was utterly insufferable as a mentor; constantly bringing up Hermione's lack of NEWTS, and stating how lucky she was that he had let her become his apprentice after the War. She had gone with Harry and destroyed the Horcruxes during what would have been their seventh year, and was already stretched to breaking point by the snideness of Snape, even though it was just the sixth week of the year. Not only did he constantly snub her ability, he wouldn't let her brew anything more complicated than a cup of tea. He also insulted her and her friends, especially Harry, at every opportunity. Hermione was getting steadily angrier. Ginny was apprenticed to Flitwick for charms – on early application! (Flitwick had said her talent was obvious and that no exams were needed) - and as their rooms were next to each other's she was reminded all the time of the stark contrast between her situation and Ginny's. 'Old Flicky' was apparently the most benevolent wizard since Merlin, and she was learning so much from him. Well, bully for Ginny, Hermione thought sourly.
While Hermione was pondering her bad luck and supposedly watching and learning as Snape brewed a Polyjuice Potion in the classroom labs, he said snidely " And I'd tie back that mane of yours, when you become advanced enough, of course, because nobody wants to find some bushy hair in their potion and become you for an hour."
Hermione had had enough. She exploded.
"Firstly, you git," she stormed. Snape looked up from his simmering cauldron, rose an eyebrow, and opened his mouth, ready to distribute punishment, but Hermione strode on.
"It's the bloody fumes that make my hair so much like a 'mane' as you so charmingly put it. And secondly," she paused, hesitating for just a moment. But her anger propelled her onwards. She had already crossed the line, and it was getting further and further away, looking almost like an insignificant speck in the distance as she continued, "you. I hate absolutely everything about you, 'Professor', most especially your narrow minded presumption!"
Again Snape opened his mouth; again Hermione bulldozed ahead.
"I made Polyjuice potion in my second year, you idiot! I was TWELVE! I spent all of my sixth year memorising the NEWT syllabus, knowing that I wouldn't be here for my last year, and that I would need my knowledge for the War. I have been able to do a Protean charm, and a Patronus, since my fifth year, and I'm sure that I could brew Wolfsbane, Felix Felicis, and everything else easily. I'm not twelve anymore, Snape, nor am I your pupil. I am eighteen, and I'm really, really angry. I hate you! You can't bring yourself to talk to me like a human being; you refuse to even deign to acknowledge me in the corridors! And, joy of joys, you have me under a bloody contract so I can't leave. But," she said, rather out of breath by this point, " . . . but it doesn't say I cant go on strike. So that's it, Snape! I'm on strike until you can treat me like the adult that I am! Good afternoon, professor."
Snape was speechless. All he could think was 'Insolence! Insubordination! Insane, insatiable, inscrutable, insensate, insensible, insuperable, insurrectionist! Insufferable know-it-all Gryffindor!' and other phrases beginning with 'Ins-'.
While Severus Snape stood silently, unable to come up with a snide retort to such an unexpected outburst, Hermione gathered her books and left the dungeons. The sound of the heavy door clanking shut brought Severus back to the world. He stalked to his cabinet full of potions, opened a secret panel, retrieved his Firewhisky and downed it in one mouthful.
'Jesus,' he thought, having finally recovered the ability to think normally, 'She's angry. Did I deserve any of it? Of course not. It's true she's not my pupil anymore, so I probably should lay off the comments a bit. And I really can't be bothered pickling those toad brains myself, so I had better go and get her back. Persuade her somehow.'
Unfortunately, Snape's idea of persuasion, ("There's lots for you still to do. I could let you prepare some Swelling Solution if you behave well"), did not equate with Hermione's (a grovelling apology).
"If I behave well?" she echoed incredulously. "Honestly, you're as bad as Ron. 'Look, Hermione, there's stuff you have to do. Come back, and I'll give you more tedious, dragging, mind-numbingly boring work as a reward. How about a second year potion?'"
"Miss Granger, you are my apprentice, and, like it or not, you will do as I say. Now come back to the dungeons and cease this disruption at once!"
"No. I don't have to. Mobilicorpus!"
Hermione unceremoniously shunted Snape out of the door to her room, which she then locked magically. She heard Snape trying 'Alohomora' and the futile little swishing noise that meant that the spell had failed.
"Give up, Professor. I invented that sealing spell myself."
She heard cursing, and a few more choice insults - "That's not really going to help much, Professor," – and then finally the noise of him stomping back down to the dungeons. She had never heard Snape stomp before. He had always stalked, or strode. But never stomped. It was almost as unheard of as a smile.
Hermione turned away from the door, and owled Ginny, who came up to her room at once.
"Ginny! When I said that I needed to talk to you, I didn't mean for you just to abandon Charms!"
"Oh, it's nothing. You said it was pretty big, and Flicky let me go, on condition that I tell him what you've done to get you so worried. He seems to think it's because of Snape."
Hermione continued, spilling out the entire story, ending with – "I know I'll be in so much trouble from the Headmistress, it's just that he treats me like dirt, and doesn't respect me at all."
Then she paused, and Ginny, glad to get a word in edgeways, said, "He wouldn't have hired you if he didn't respect you."
"He didn't hire me. Professor McGonnagal made him. She probably had to bribe him or something . . ."
"Not according to Flitwick"
"Well, Flicky told me that Professor Sprout told him that Professor Vector told her that Professor Snape specifically asked for you over the Headmistress' suggestion of you as an Arithmancy apprentice and Draco for Potions."
" . . . Oh," said a puzzled Hermione. "Well then, why does he treat me like this?"
"He chose you because you were better than Draco, but that doesn't mean he likes you. He hates the way you constantly suspected him, and, knowing him, he's probably still angry about you knocking him out in your third year." Ginny said sagely.
There was a long pause, and then Hermione said, "He holds a grudge, doesn't he?"
Calmer now, she picked up on a thought that had been niggling at her. "Draco? What's with the first name terms?"
"Well . . ." began Ginny, blushing furiously. "It was . . . yes . . . but we're just friends."
Hermione was a bit surprised that Ginny was so defensive about it; she didn't see anything wrong with Malfoy.
"Ok, then" she said bemusedly.
"You don't mind?"
"Of course not! He saved my life in the final battle, and he was forced into what he did earlier by his parents. Do you fancy him?"
"No, not . . . no."
Hermione, wholly unconvinced, chose to drop the subject. Ginny was obviously uncomfortable with talking about it.
"Ok then. I suppose I might see him when I'm on strike, if he comes in to visit you."
"No! I mean no, he wouldn't come into visit me. Wait . . . you're still on strike?"
"Of course! Do you want to help me make a banner?"