Disclaimer: They're not mine. Not a single one of them.

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Her parents, Hermione thought with chagrin, had never prepared her for this moment.

They'd admonished her about the importance of clean dress and impeccable manners. They'd instilled in their only daughter the highest admiration for the benefits of education—and an infinite regard for those who ascended to the top ranks of their field. Hermione would have known how to shake his hand and thank him warmly, sincerely—and deferentially—for his generosity. She would have known how to promise to work hard in an effort to distinguish herself in her chosen career.

She could, she thought brokenly, have dealt with refusal on other any other grounds. If he'd been reluctant to write her a recommendation letter without further proof her skills and determination, well, she could easily have handled that with equanimity. She'd have whipped up a proposal for the most advanced Potions project in Hogwarts history faster than his glittering black eyes could have blinked.

Nothing in her upbringing had prepared her for this.

"May I ask why?" She barely managed to form the words. She was too consumed with thinking that Snape had eyes that could grow hard and dark enough to reflect like mirrors. They were... unfathomable, really. She feared she'd see the beginning of her own traitorous tears reflected in his eyes. She was his best student. She knew that, and if she'd called him on it, he could not possibly have denied it. Her marks, always stellar, spoke for themselves.

Why, then, would he refuse to recommend her for a Medicinal Potions apprenticeship at St. Mungo's?

"Your natural skills are not of the caliber required of St. Mungo's Potions Mistresses, Miss Granger," he said plainly, his voice entirely devoid of emotion. "Doubtless you considered your acceptance virtually guaranteed on the basis of your marks alone, but I can assure you from personal experience that your marks in my class will matter little, if at all, in the world of professional Potions."

She'd lost the power of speech. Staring was all she could manage to do. Pursuing a dual apprenticeship in Medicinal Potions and Mediwizardry had been her dream. Through such an amazing accomplishment she could have distinguished herself merely by graduating. She'd lain awake at night for months dreaming of the strides she'd make in her impressive career.

Yet Snape—living proof of the miracles of antivenin and the strongest restorative potions the magical community had ever seen—refused her.

"You lack real talent in Potions, Miss Granger. Clearly I am in no position to deny that you possess an almost limitless capacity for"—his voice dripped with disdain—"memorizing facts. However, book work will not gain you a mastery of Potions. You have no instinct, no innate understanding of the subject."

So that was it, wasn't it? She felt her shoulders slump and was uncomfortably aware of her own body. Tears were beginning to well in her eyes. She needed to make her escape—and quickly.

"Thank you for your time, sir." Turning on her heel and exiting the room, she tried not to register the harsh slap of her soles across the damp floor. Her footsteps had always echoed so harshly in the dungeons. Some small portion of her overwrought brain congratulated itself, amazed by the self-possession she'd mustered in refusing to allow him to see her cry.