A/N: Thank you to my lovely betas! Without you, I'd be floundering with misplaced commas and dangling plot points.

As you can guess by now, this story is going to develop slowly. I would love to have a bunch of Remus/Hermione scenes immediately, but that's just not natural. I'd hate to hurry into things and make my story seem OOC or rushed, so please bear with me. The next chapter is chock full of Marauder goodness, including a little Remus/Hermione UST.

Also, many reviewers seem concerned with my decision to put Hermione in Slytherin. These people either think (a) the hat would never put Hermione in Slytherin because she would ask it not to and/or (b) I'll never get Hermione and Remus together if they're in separate houses. I think I've dealt with concern A in this chapter. As for concern B, well, just think Romeo and Juliet.

~o~o~o~

Last time…

"Gentlemen, I would like to introduce you to Ms. Agnes Coupe," he said. "Agnes, may I introduce three of the Weasley brothers and Mister Harry Potter."

The brusque woman glanced indifferently at all four of them, but when her eyes met the twins', she froze, and something seemed to click.

"You must have called me here to ask about that infuriating Granger girl."

~o~o~o~

"How did she know that Hermione's infuriating?"

"Bloody hell!"

"Is she a seer?"

"It must be Legilimency!"

The din of four mingling voices was abruptly silenced by one curt reply.

"I do not invade lesser minds unless it is absolutely necessary. And the next person to accuse me of making a living reading tea leaves is going to find themselves wandless in Siberia."

Dumbledore's office once again exploded in a ruckus as the young wizards clamored for information.

"Was that a no?"

"Did she just call us all stupid?"

"Did your boss tell you?"

"So, how did you know about Hermione?"

Coupe cleared her throat impatiently and the room once more quieted.

"Yes, yes, no, and because I encountered her in the past, obviously," she related irritably.

This time, Coupe merely stood back and apathetically examined her nails as the inevitable commotion started up again.

"Is she all right?"

"Why hasn't she Apparated back yet?"

"So she survived the trip?"

"Did she—wait, you thought she might not have SURVIVED?"

This last comment was spoken by a very distressed Ron Weasley and was directed at Fred. His eyes screamed murder, and it was only Dumbledore's interruption that stopped him from physically attacking his brother.

"Let's focus on the good news, shall we, Mr. Weasley? Apparently Hermione arrived safely in 1975 and was able to make contact with the very person most likely to help her find her way back home," the Headmaster noted sagely.

Ron begrudgingly accepted this information with a terse nod.

"Agnes," Dumbledore continued, turning his focus on the austere witch. "What do you remember about your encounters with Hermione in the past?"

Coupe sighed deeply, as if the question was completely tedious.

"Nothing," she replied matter-of-factly.

There was a brief pause, and then…

"I don't understand."

"What do you mean, 'nothing'?"

"Is this a joke?"

"Seriously, you thought your stupid device might have KILLED my best friend?"

"Ron, focus!" Harry scolded, and Ron managed to look suitably contrite.

"Agnes, perhaps you could elucidate?" Dumbledore suggested.

Giving Dumbledore a deeply exasperated look, Coupe spun on her heel and marched straight over to the fireplace. Before any of the wizards present understood what was happening, a wall of bright green flames shot up in the hearth.

"MINISTRY OF MAGIC!" Coupe shouted.

And then she was gone.

~o~o~o~

Two Months Later (or twenty years earlier)…

"The hat's certainly taking long enough," Peter Pettigrew stated.

The Marauders stared intently at Hermione Granger, who had been sitting nervously at the head of the Great Hall wearing a very tatty old wizard's hat for quite some time.

"It's probably debating between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw," Remus hypothesized.

"Speaking from experience, Moony?" Sirius asked knowingly.

Remus shrugged and smiled.

"Wasn't it you who the hat almost placed in Slytherin?" the werewolf inquired innocently.

Sirius's nostrils flared and a retort immediately spewed out from his lips.

"For a split second!" he hissed, causing a few nearby Gryffindors to stare.

His fellow Marauders chuckled, but Sirius quickly rallied.

"No, shut it," he snapped. "For a split second after I put the ragged old thing on it mentioned that the Blacks had always done well in Slytherin, but—"

"Case closed," James concluded gleefully.

"BUT!" Sirius continued hotly. "It quickly detected the presence of a soul and conscience in me and rightly placed me here. Although how you lot escaped Slytherin, I'll never know."

Sirius scowled at his compatriots, but only Peter looked slightly intimidated. Remus and James continued to smirk at his indignation.

"It's okay, Sirius. The hat briefly considered me for Slytherin too," Peter admitted.

The boys whipped around to face Peter, each looking slightly disturbed. Squirming under their gaze, Peter quickly diverted their attention.

"I think it's about to announce its decision," he noted, pointing to the Sorting Hat.

Sure enough, the hat's brim ripped wide open and it spoke loudly enough for the entire room to hear.

"Better be…" it began.

There was a brief pause.

"Gryffindor," Remus murmured under his breath.

"SLYTHERIN!" the hat bellowed.

Remus was sure his jaw hit the table.

"Merlin's balls!" James exclaimed.

"I kissed her. There were Slytherin lips on my lips!" Sirius whined, snatching a cloth napkin from the table and rubbing it furiously against his mouth.

"She did a great job of pretending to be pleasant," Peter muttered.

"Do you think it counts? I mean, she wasn't officially a Slytherin at the time," Sirius asked, his voice muffled by the napkin.

"A Slytherin is a Slytherin from birth, mate," James asserted, shaking his head in a commiserating sort of way.

"Blech!" Sirius responded, moving the napkin up and down more rapidly.

"They're going to kill her," Remus whispered.

Peter frowned.

"What was that?" he asked.

Remus snapped out of his daze and addressed his friends directly.

"The Slytherins; they're going to kill her when they find out what she is," he fretted.

Distressed, Remus glanced around the table and happened to catch Lily's eye. His fellow Prefect looked similarly concerned, although she smiled meekly when she saw him. The three other boys shared a brief moment during which they glanced awkwardly at each other as Lupin's meaning sunk in.

"They won't hurt her. She's one of their own now," James replied weakly, not quite meeting Lupin's eyes.

"Yeah, she'll be fine," Peter affirmed.

"And if she isn't, do you really care all that much? She is a Slytherin, after all," Sirius said with a lopsided grin.

Remus glowered at his friend.

"Of course I care. Being a Slytherin does not automatically make one evil, you know," he growled.

He kept his eyes fixed on Hermione. He was so caught up in the petrified look on her face that he did not hear Sirius when the boy muttered, "Since when?"

~o~o~o~

Hermione was frozen on the stool, unable to mentally process the pronouncement that the Sorting Hat had just made. She felt like she was wearing earplugs. The only sounds she could hear were the pulsing rush of blood in her veins, her own labored breathing, and the staccato thumping of her heart against her ribs.

Her eyes locked onto the Gryffindor table, where people appeared to be moving in slow motion. Lily's green eyes widened in surprise, but she managed to force out a reassuring smile and nod. A few seats away Hermione watched the Marauders' expressions transform in tandem. Their mouths fell open in shock; eyebrows that were raised in anticipation now drew together in confusion; and for some reason Sirius began scrubbing his mouth with a napkin.

Then it was as if somebody hit a Muggle power switch. All at once the disorder in the Great Hall came rushing back at normal speed and volume, and Hermione's ears were assaulted by the cheering of the Slytherin table.

"Go on, dear. Take a seat with your housemates," Minerva McGonagall prompted.

Hermione felt like she was in desperate need of some Skele-Grow. Her legs seemed boneless and rubbery when she attempted to stand. Acting quickly, Professor McGonagall grabbed Hermione's elbow and steadied her while she forced herself to her feet. She stumbled numbly to the Slytherin table and literally fell onto the bench when she made it to her destination. It was then that she realized that her mouth was hanging open, and she hastily snapped it shut.

"Welcome to Slytherin!" a burly boy with sandy hair exclaimed, clapping her on the back.

Hermione slid halfway off the bench and would have toppled the rest of the way to the ground had the boy not hoisted her back up by her robes.

"Are you okay? You look like you're about to be ill," a female voice asked.

Hermione did not see the speaker, because she was staring determinedly at a goblet of pumpkin juice, trying to clear some stubborn black spots from her vision.

"Just give her some air, Val," the sandy-haired boy ordered.

"I just want to say hello, Darius. She is in my year, after all," the female voice snapped.

"Why isn't she answering?" asked a new voice.

"She's losing color," called yet another voice.

"Hey! Hermione! That's your name, right?" the girl called Val shouted, grabbing the pale witch by the shoulders and shaking her.

Hermione blinked.

"Yes?" she answered weakly.

"Oh good. She's not mute," Val quipped. "So tell us your story. Where did you come from? Why are you just starting Hogwarts this year?"

Hermione reluctantly pulled her focus from the goblet and glanced at her audience. A dozen curious faces turned towards her, and she realized that they expected her to respond.

Why was she here?

'Oh no,' she thought. 'I have to tell them I'm only half human! They'll murder me in my sleep!'

But what else could she do?

The Sorting Hat announced, "HUFFLEPUFF!" for a nervous boy introduced as "Atkins, Jonathan" and the opposite end of the hall erupted in cheers and applause. Once the din died down, Hermione knew that she had to say something.

"I, er… The reason I didn't attend Hogwarts earlier is because I… never got a letter," she mumbled.

"What? Why wouldn't you get a letter?" the boy called Darius prodded.

They paused once more as "Caradear, Jordana" was announced for Ravenclaw, but once the ruckus faded, all eyes were once more on Hermione.

"Well, you see… I'm… That is to say that m-my m-mother… M-my father…" she stuttered weakly.

Hermione felt her stomach churn uncomfortably. The room began to spin. It seemed as though the room had increased in temperature several hundred degrees.

Then, with no further warning, Hermione lurched forward and promptly spilled the contents of her stomach all over the girl asking the questions.

Even more unfortunately for Hermione, she happened to lose her lunch during one of the quieter moments in the Great Hall. The Sorting Hat was having an especially difficult time placing a first-year called "Danton, Gabriel," and so the tables were silently awaiting the Hat's decision. At Hermione's noisy interruption, three hundred sets of eyes converged on the messy scene with horrified interest.

Aghast, the Slytherin girl sprung up from the bench and screeched, "SCOURGIFY!" with her wand aimed at her robes. The mess disappeared, but the awful silence did not. Even the Sorting Hat appeared to have given up trying to figure out where to place the Danton boy for the moment. Hermione snatched a napkin from the table with shaky hands and wiped her mouth.

Then she did something distinctly un-Gryffindor.

She fled.

She nearly tripped as she swiveled around and leapt from the bench. She ignored the awed looks of the students as they followed her progress to the opposite end of the Great Hall. Her fingernails scratched against the heavy oak doors in her haste to leave, and it took her a moment to think to use her wand. Muttering a spell, she was relieved to see the doors swing open to allow her to escape.

Her shoes pounded against the flagstone floors, echoing off the cavernous walls in the torch-lit entryway. She made a beeline for the wide marble staircase and took the steps two at a time, scarcely remembering to stop at the sixth floor. She flew down the corridor so quickly that several portraits shouted at her to slow down.

Finally, she arrived in front of a familiar face and immediately hunched over with her hands on her knees and tried to regain her breath.

"Dragon Pox!" she wheezed.

The only response she received was a high-pitched squeal. Hermione didn't even bother straightening up; she continued to stare at the floor and pant. A moment later, she was rewarded with a slightly more measured response.

"Merlin, you terrified me! Is it September the First already? Oh dear, the halls will be swarming with careless ruffians posing every sort of danger to my canvas!"

"Dragon Pox," Hermione repeated, righting herself.

Fulbert the Fearful was clutching the arms of a threadbare caquetoire, apparently trying to become one with the upholstery.

"Fine," the timid wizard spat.

With one last huff, he swung open to reveal a small but lush private suite. However, the sight did not bring any true relief to Hermione because the room was not at all how she remembered it. In June her quarters had been decorated neutrally in tones of cream and taupe. Now everything in the room, from the draperies to the dining chairs, was adorned in shades of silver and green. Her stomach plummeted to somewhere by her ankles when she saw the image of a serpent coiled around the seams of her bedding. She now remembered reading in Hogwarts, A History that the castle's guestrooms were charmed to reflect the inhabitant's house. Since Hogwarts did not recognize Hermione in June she had enjoyed a plain but charming room. Now, however, reminders of her current predicament surrounded her.

Ignoring the horrid agitation in her stomach, Hermione moaned miserably and threw herself onto the bed. She squeezed her eyes closed, buried her face in an emerald pillow, and willed herself not to cry. It was pointless, however, and her cheeks grew hot and wet against the fabric of the pillow as tears escaped her closed lids. No more than thirty minutes could have passed when Hermione heard the portrait hole swing open. She tensed immediately but could not bring herself to lift her tearstained face to see who had entered.

"I thought I might find you here."

It was Dumbledore.

"You did this on purpose!" she muttered into her pillow.

"I beg your pardon?"

Hermione whipped her head around to face the Headmaster. She pointed an accusatory finger in his direction.

"You want me to spy for the Order. What better way for me to hear what's going on with future Death Eaters than to live among them?"

She saw Dumbledore's eyes widen for a split second before his carefully serene expression fell back into place.

"I assure you that the Sorting Hat cannot be tampered with in that way, nor would I presume it my right to place you in a house that did not suit you simply for my own benefit," he replied calmly.

Hermione deflated. Of course, she knew that Dumbledore would not have done such a thing, but the alternative—the idea that she might actually belong in Slytherin—was too upsetting to contemplate.

"I'm sorry," she mumbled.

She glanced around the room once more, feeling claustrophobic. The green walls appeared to be pressing in on her, and she squeezed her eyes shut miserably.

"It's quite all right. You are clearly upset. May I venture a guess that you are not a member of Slytherin in your own time?" Dumbledore commented offhandedly.

"Gryffindor," Hermione provided.

"Hmm. How interesting."

Hermione glanced at the Headmaster once more, giving him a withering stare.

"Yes, very interesting," she deadpanned.

Dumbledore smiled.

"What I mean is that the Sorting Hat is supposed to consider the wearer's choices. It should not have sent you to the very house that you told it you did not want."

Hermione frowned. She replayed the events in the Great Hall again in her mind, and slowly voiced her recollection.

"I told it I knew I wasn't a Ravenclaw, but… I never said a thing about Slytherin. It never even occurred to me that I might be placed there. It's absurd," she avowed.

"What is so absurd about it?" Dumbledore asked.

Hermione threw her hands up.

"Well, for starters, I'm actually Muggle-born!" she stated, exasperated.

Dumbledore slowly clasped his hands before his face, resting his chin on his index fingers.

"What makes you think that there has never been a Muggle-born in Slytherin?"

Hermione gaped dumbly.

"Have there been?" she asked.

"Most definitely."

Dumbledore spoke with such certainty that she believed him without question.

"How is your stomach?" Dumbledore asked, changing the subject.

"Fine, I guess," Hermione murmured, too busy considering what she had just heard to think about her gastrointestinal issues.

Dumbledore held out a small vial of potion, which Hermione begrudgingly accepted and drank. She immediately felt a rush of gentle warmth flowing through her body. It coated her insides, settling her stomach and ever so slightly calming her nerves. She exhaled deeply.

"You know, Hermione," Dumbledore began. "Your presence can only be good for the members of your new house. You can teach them tolerance."

"Yes. Please have that inscribed on my tombstone. 'Hermione Granger: Taught Slytherins a valuable lesson just before her untimely demise at their hands.'"

Although she said it sarcastically, Hermione felt a real pang of fear when she thought about the torment she might suffer at the hands of her bigoted housemates.

"I hope you know that I would never let anything happen to you," Dumbledore said, frowning.

Hermione pinned him with a solemn look.

"With all due respect, Headmaster, you can't keep that promise."

Before Dumbledore could reply, there was a knock at the door.

"Oh good. I have invited one of your housemates here to assist with your integration into your new house."

Hermione braced herself.

'Please don't be the girl I threw up on. Anyone but her!' Hermione prayed to any higher power that might be listening.

Dumbledore pushed the door open to reveal a skinny boy with pale skin, a large hooked nose, and greasy black hair.

'I suppose I should have been more specific,' Hermione thought.

"Severus, thank you for coming," Dumbledore greeted Snape, gesturing for him to take a seat beside his chair. On the bed, Hermione drew her knees up to her chin as if contracting her body would allow her to disappear.

This younger version of Snape did not move in the same intimidating manner as the Snape she knew. There was no swooping, menacing movement, no large robes billowing out from behind him. And yet his piercing eyes met hers with a look of such loathing that she felt just as unsettled as she ever had as his pupil.

"Severus, there is something that I am going to tell you about Miss Granger that I expect you to accept with the grace befitting someone with the title of Prefect."

Snape nodded cautiously.

"The reason for Hermione's late acceptance to Hogwarts is a matter of her birth. You see, her mother was a banshee."

Snape stared at the Headmaster, his mouth set in a thin line, his eyes narrowed. Without him saying a word, Hermione could tell exactly what he was thinking: 'You cannot be serious.'

"Her father passed away last June, and she stayed with me for the summer. Of course, her heritage has no effect whatsoever on her magical ability. She is a witch of extraordinary talent and character, and she is a worthy addition to your house."

Snape's mouth twitched, but he maintained his silence, allowing Dumbledore to continue.

"I know that you, out of all of your housemates, are capable of the sort of compassion and tolerance that Miss Granger will find invaluable as she adjusts to her new home."

Hermione's look now mirrored Snape's incredulous glare, for 'compassionate' and 'tolerant' were among the top ten words that Hermione would least associate with Snape. Additional words on that list included 'nurturing' and 'giddy.'

"As such," Dumbledore continued, apparently oblivious to the increasingly skepticism of his audience, "I have chosen you to inform your housemates of the reason for Miss Granger's sudden arrival."

Snape's mouth twitched once more, and this time his eyes flashed dangerously. Dumbledore, perhaps noticing this, placed a gentle hand on the boy's shoulder.

"I trust you to protect her, Severus, when I cannot," he said gravely, sounding for all the world like an anxious father.

Snape's eyes did not soften in the least, but he gave the Headmaster a curt nod. Apparently deciding that this reaction was good enough, Dumbledore released Snape's shoulder and rose from his chair.

"Well, you two should be getting to your common room. You have a busy week ahead of you."

As Dumbledore approached the door, Hermione felt panic flare up inside her once again.

"Headmaster," she called out.

He turned back to face her, and she faltered, unsure of what she wanted to say. Taking in her alarm, Dumbledore drew back to the bed. He rested his hands on her shoulders and tilted his head down so that he might view her from over his half-moon glasses.

"You are an uncommonly resilient and capable witch, Hermione. I have the utmost confidence that you will thrive in your new environment."

In any other circumstance, his words would have brought a delighted blush to her face. However now, with her anxiety so great, his words fell over her without any reassuring effect. Even the pressure of his hands on her shoulders felt dull and cold. She tried to force a smile, but it came out as more of a grimace. As he released her, she glanced at Snape and saw that he was watching them with a calculating intensity.

Bidding them both goodnight, Dumbledore took his leave. Snape rose and strode out after him without so much as a word to Hermione. The nervous witch stumbled off the bed and hurried to follow her future Potions Master, ignoring Fulbert when he complained that she swung him shut at an unsafe speed. Hermione saw the ends of Dumbledore's robes as he whipped around the corner on his way upstairs to his quarters. She redirected her attention to Snape, who was marching in the opposite direction.

She rushed after him toward the dungeons, her apprehension growing with every step. She felt confident enough in her knowledge of Snape's character to predict that he had not taken the Headmaster's request to heart. She had to look no further than Snape's treatment of Harry. Snape owed James Potter a life debt, and how did he repay him? By treating James's son with just enough care to refrain from actively facilitating the boy's murder, all the while relishing in his daily torment.

So, while Snape might not actively try to harm Hermione, she felt reasonably sure that he would not protect her from others. It wasn't in his best interests to do so, after all. Hermione would have to change that. That would prove difficult, however, as Snape was already on the third floor and was gaining speed.

"Wait! Severus!" she called after him, feeling ridiculous for using his first name.

Of course, Snape didn't stop. He sped up and Hermione tried again once they had reached the second floor landing.

"Snape! Stop!"

Her future professor actually did stop this time, but Hermione would have bet all of the galleons in Gringotts that he was rolling his eyes as he did so.

"What?" he snapped, turning 'round to face her.

Hermione took a step back at his tone but quickly composed herself.

"Look, I know that you already dislike me. And I also know that I didn't make the best first impression."

Snape gave her a pointed look.

"Or second impression. Or third," she amended.

He emitted a longsuffering sigh that made it clear that conversing with her any longer would cause him extreme pain, and he turned to walk away.

"But!" she exclaimed.

He made an impatient noise but turned back to hear what she had to say.

"If you help me, I can help you in return."

"As if you could possibly offer me anything useful," he sneered.

This time he actually started moving again, and Hermione caught up with him in the castle foyer.

"Wait! I can help you with Lily!" she shouted.

Her voice echoed off the towers stone walls, and it was enough to make Snape stop short. The tense set of his shoulders made Hermione pause on the stairs. He replied without turning around.

"Don't talk about things you don't understand."

Hermione hesitantly moved down the last few steps to join Snape in the foyer.

"I met her right after your disagreement in Flourish & Blotts this summer. She told me all about your fight."

"If you have a point, come to it," Snape drawled, still frozen with his back to her.

"I can talk you up. I can tell her you've changed. I can help you get her back."

Finally, Snape deigned to turn and face her. The Snape she knew in the future was excellent at making his anger felt while maintaining an air of cold detachment. This Snape was not. He clenched his fists and his face contorted with rage as he addressed her.

"You met her once! You aren't friends. You don't even know her!"

Hermione, despite the extreme wariness she felt in Snape's presence, smiled.

"I'm a half-breed in a house full of Pureblood racists. Do you really think she won't befriend me?" she asked.

Hermione's smile grew when Snape was unable to respond.

"Lily and I are going to be close. I'll see to that. And it's up to you what I tell her when she asks about you," she concluded simply.

Snape's eyes still burned with an intensity that communicated extreme displeasure, but for reasons not yet apparent to her, he was smiling.

"You really do belong in Slytherin," he said.

Just like that, all of Hermione's bravado dissipated. Snape could not have said a single thing that would have horrified her more than that.

"I just don't want to be smothered in my sleep," Hermione mumbled defensively.

"Well, I can't promise that," Snape smirked.

Hermione frowned.

"Why not?"

Snape crossed his arms in front of him and gave her a superior look.

"Well, I'm not allowed in the girls' dormitory, am I? You'll have to consult the female Prefect in our year."

He started down the last flight of stairs to the dungeons, and Hermione followed.

"And who is that?" she asked.

She caught up to Snape as they walked down the corridor, and she saw that his smirk remained fixed on his face when he replied.

"Oh, you've already met. Valencia Ferella; the girl that you vomited on."

Hermione stopped walking.

"I'm dead."

At her words, Snape realized she was no longer next to him, and he too stopped.

"Oh, stop moaning," he said impatiently. "You have yourself a deal. I'll do everything I can to keep the brunt of my housemates' aggression off you."

Hermione glared at him for his callous tone but reluctantly continued walking again. A moment later, Snape paused in front of a stone wall.

"When we enter the common room, go immediately to your dormitory. I'll gather everyone and break the news," he said.

Hermione nodded silently. She supposed she should be grateful to Snape for committing to their deal and was about to thank him when Snape spoke again.

"And Granger? You might consider a Freshening Spell. Your breath is rank."

Hermione glared at him again.

"Thank you," she bit out.

Snape's eyes narrowed.

"You can thank me by following through with your end of our agreement."

"I will," Hermione assured him.

Snape spoke the password ("Toujours Pur") and the wall moved to reveal a long hallway. They traveled down the hallway and finally emerged in a dungeon-like room with low ceilings and cold lighting.

"Oh, look who it is! Our newest little invalid."

Hermione winced and looked up to see none other than Valencia Ferella standing in the middle of the common room with her hands on her hips.

"Shut it, Val," the burly boy from the Great Hall snapped. "Good aim, Granger," he added.

A few people around the room laughed at this. Val flushed but maintained her hands-on-hips position.

"Prefects, gather all of the students in your year and meet back here immediately."

Begrudgingly, the Prefects complied. Those already in the common room looked curiously at Snape, who they knew as an unpleasant but solitary boy. It was unusual for him to make an announcement of any kind.

"Who died and made you Head Boy?" a boy with dark hair and striking aristocratic features balked.

Snape glowered at him.

"Don't get smart with me, Black."

"I agree with Regulus. Where do you get off, Snape?" a great hulking boy with a horribly pimpled face demanded.

"Headmaster's orders, Avery," Snape replied with a shrug.

Hermione, already uncomfortable, quickly left the room. She knew from Hogwarts: A History that the girls' bedrooms were located in the eastern end of the dormitory, far beneath the Black Lake, but did not set out in that direction. Instead she ducked into an alcove a few meters away and waited as a few dozen irritated Slytherins were dragged from their rooms and brought into the lounge.

She emerged from the alcove and chanced a closer look at the proceedings. Without an Extendable Ear, Hermione would have to get close enough to see and hear Snape's presentation without being discovered. She vowed to learn a proper Disillusionment Charm one day, but for now, she pressed herself against the wall just outside the Slytherin Common room and muttered Engorgio on a potted plant so that it grew to better conceal her. Now she could see the Slytherins settling into a number of green tufted leather sofas. They all faced Snape with expressions of bored irritation.

Severus Snape surveyed his common room coldly, apparently checking that everybody was present.

"What's this all about, Snape?" asked a boy who was smaller than Avery but looked just as unpleasant.

"I'm getting to that, Mulciber," Snape said, irritation clear in his voice.

He took a deep breath and launched into as brief an explanation of Hermione's story as humanly possible.

"The new girl's mother was a banshee. We are being asked to overlook that in the name of house unity."

A stunned silence followed this announcement. Hermione's entire body tensed. Then the room erupted.

"A half-breed in Slytherin? Impossible!"

"The hat's malfunctioning!"

"I can't be expected to sleep in the same room as that thing!"

Snape held up his hands and shouted for silence. Once the room had settled down, he spoke again.

"Stop being so dramatic. Her father was a pureblood. Therefore, she is fifty percent more pure than even a Mudblood," he pointed out.

"Yeah, and she's fifty percent less human than even a Mudblood," Avery retorted.

"Fifty percent pure is the same as zero percent," Regulus chimed in.

The room exploded in a chorus of agreement. Hermione scowled at Regulus Black, which was a bit pointless as he could not see her. Snape raised his hands once again, and the din dwindled down to low grumbling.

"She was put in Slytherin for a reason. The hat has never been wrong before. Besides, anyone who touches her is a fool. She's protected by Dumbledore. He took her in as a daughter over the summer," he snapped.

Mulciber laughed.

"A Slytherin who thinks of Dumbledore as daddy? Oh, this is just rich!" he scoffed.

Hermione bristled in her hiding place.

"Snape, why are you so set on defending the creature?" Val asked.

"Yeah, Snape? We already know you have a soft spot for Mudbloods, but half-breeds too?" Avery demanded.

Snape clenched his jaw before continuing.

"Dumbledore charged me with the burden of revealing her true nature to you all. I am merely following orders, which is my duty as a Prefect."

Valencia tilted her head to the side and viewed Snape skeptically.

"It's not your duty to defend her," she stated.

"It is my duty to defend members of my own house. As it is all of yours," Snape said calmly.

There was a fair amount of grumbling from the crowd after Snape's comment, but it was Regulus Black who spoke out the loudest.

"As far as I'm concerned, she's not a member of this house," he announced.

Snape pointed his wand rigidly at Regulus and nearly shouted his next words.

"And as far as I'm concerned, Black, your opinion counts for nothing. Five points from Slytherin. Let that be a lesson to all of you. She may have inferior blood, but she's a member of this house and none of the Prefects will tolerate any behavior to indicate otherwise."

Hermione was shocked at Snape's words. She had expected him to display only the faintest, most reluctant show of support. Yet here he was, risking his neck in front of his entire house for her.

For Lily, Hermione silently corrected herself.

"Oh really?" the girl called Val challenged, her hands once more on her hips.

"Yes, Valencia. Really," Snape countered.

Mulciber lifted himself from his chair and approached Snape slowly, like a predator stalking its prey.

"Watch yourself, Snape. People might get the wrong idea about you," he warned.

"And what idea is that?" Snape asked impatiently.

"That you don't know who the right type of people are anymore. You finally rid yourself of that Mudblood bitch, only to pick up a new wretch?" Mulciber spat.

Hermione's eyes flew wide open, while Snape's did the opposite. He squeezed his eyes shut and clenched the wand in his fist.

"You're out of order, Mulciber."

Mulciber just laughed.

"Am I?"

Suddenly the burly boy with the sandy hair, Darius, was up out of his chair and standing next to Snape.

"Everybody settle down. I'm the seventh year Prefect here, and Snape is right," Darius proclaimed, and Snape and Mulciber reluctantly took a step back from each other.

Val spoke next, looking entirely unmoved. She had remained sprawled out casually on a leather sofa throughout the entire proceedings.

"Darius, your thoughts on the matter are hardly representative of our house. You're friendly with a couple of Hufflepuffs for Merlin's sake."

"They're my little sisters!" Darius returned incredulously.

"As if that's any excuse," Val muttered, curling her lip in disgust.

Darius was unimpressed by her show of defiance.

"Val, you and the rest of the Prefects will do as I say. And the rest of the crowd will fall in line behind you," he asserted.

Val laughed in what was supposed to be a nonchalant manner, but it sounded forced.

"Relax, Darius. Since when have you known me to do anything stupid or impulsive? If she's the Headmaster's pet, we won't do her any permanent damage. Will we, girls?"

She turned and shot an inquisitive look at the girls on the sofa next to her. They giggled nastily but said nothing. Smirking, Val turned back to Darius and Snape.

"Now, everyone to bed," she commanded, smirking all the more when her housemates instantly followed her orders rather than waiting for Darius or Snape.

Val and her friends got up and sauntered out of the room. Hermione sprung up from her hiding place and darted down the eastern hallway to the girls' dormitories. She made it into her room just before the others.

They entered their room with an assertive swagger that did not escape Hermione's notice. Hermione had perched herself nervously on the edge of the only bed in the room that was not taken when she entered. The girls studiously ignored her as they went about their bedtime rituals, as if pretending she was not there would somehow make it so. The only indication that they saw her at all was a single comment from Val just before they all turned in for the night.

"Half-breed, take care not to touch any of our things. I don't care what Snape says. You're not a Slytherin," the girl hissed.

"I couldn't agree more," Hermione replied under her breath.

The other Slytherin girls smirked, but Hermione ignored them and climbed under her covers. Sleep did not come easily to Hermione. Even after whispering a half-dozen defensive charms just in case, when she finally drifted off long past midnight her sleep was light and fretful. Each time she heard the rustling of sheets, her entire body tensed in anticipation of the hex that she was certain one of her new roommates had just sent her way.

She was usually an early riser, but the following morning when she heard her roommates start to stir, Hermione buried herself deeper into her cocoon of blankets. She did not trust herself to endure the sneers and jibes of a half-dozen angry Slytherins so early in the morning.

So she pretended to be asleep as Val and the other sixth year Slytherin girls stumbled about the room muttering makeup charms. At one point Val noted that they should not wake Hermione because she needed all the beauty sleep she could get, and Hermione heard the other girls giggle in response. It was not much later that Hermione heard them start to file downstairs for breakfast. It was only when she heard the last footsteps fade that Hermione finally got out of bed, muttered a quick Freshening Charm, and threw on her school clothes.

She entered the Great Hall and darted immediately for the far end of the Slytherin table, which was almost completely vacant. The nearest Slytherin was first-year Gabriel Danton, who gave her a nervous glance and quickly shoved down to the next bench. Hermione's eyes found the Gryffindor table, hoping for a glimpse of Lily, but it appeared that the girl had already headed off to her first class. Hermione did not see any of the Marauders either. In fact, the Great Hall was mostly empty. By next week there would still be students milling about at this point in the morning, but as it was the first day of classes, Hermione guessed that people were eager to start the year off on the right foot.

For now, she was relieved that the hall was so empty, as it appeared that news of her secret had already spread to the other houses. She saw a couple of Gryffindor boys whispering furiously, pointing in Hermione's direction, and then pantomiming the shrieking calls of a banshee.

Hermione managed to shovel down a small plate of beans and toast before making her way to the greenhouses for Herbology. Her breakfast settled like lead into the pit of her stomach as she walked, and by the time she entered the greenhouses, she was beginning to sincerely regret her decision to eat anything at all.

Hermione managed to stand at the back of the crowd of Slytherins while a much younger but no less mangy Professor Sprout explained the day's lesson (collecting the Stinksap from the boils of Mimbulus mimbletonia). Sprout directed them to claim one of the individually potted Mimbulus mimbletonia plants on a long wooden table in between the Devil's Snare and Gurdyroot before she set off to deal with a particularly menacing group of Fanged Geraniums. Ignoring the whispers and stares directed at her, Hermione went to stand in front of one of the pots when she was roughly shoved aside by a large, hulking Slytherin with a horribly pimpled face.

"Hey, new girl! Take care not to touch me again. I'd have to dip back into the dorm for a bath before Arithmancy, and there's hardly time for that," Avery sneered.

Rubbing her shoulder, Hermione shot Severus Snape a pointed look as he passed by her on his way to stand next to Avery. Snape ignored her and continued to walk, but Hermione managed to snag the edge of his sleeve and give it a firm tug. Snape spun around stiffly and glowered at Hermione.

"I thought we had a deal," she hissed.

"We do, and I've yet to see you carry out your side of the bargain. I already did enough for you last night. You're on your own until you show me that you can do what you claim you can do," Snape whispered, his eyes narrowed into slits.

He drew back and gave his sleeve a sharp jerk, freeing himself to join his friends. Hermione huffed, but straightened up and stood beside a very uncomfortable Hufflepuff, careful to avoid touching the Devil's Snare at her back.

It was a fairly dull lesson, but Hermione was so distracted that she was not operating at her full capabilities. She managed to pop two boils which left her entire right arm covered with Stinksap.

"Don't bother with a Cleaning Charm, Granger," Mulciber called out.

"Yeah, Stinksap can only improve your stench," Avery added from beside him. His grinned, and the pimples on his cheeks strained under pressure.

The Slytherins and a few of the less nervous Hufflepuffs tittered with laughter. Snape merely stared down his plant, focusing on his flawless extraction of Stinksap.

"I'm not surprised you're an expert at dealing with boils, Avery," Hermione snapped before she could stop herself.

Avery stopped laughing and refocused his attention on Hermione.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"I just think it's admirable that you can take the skills you've learned from having a horrible skin condition like yours and apply them to Herbology."

Hermione was shocked as soon as the words left her mouth. It was entirely unlike her to spout such vitriol with so little provocation; it was much more Ron's style, or Harry's, on a bad day. When she considered this she realized that her reaction probably had very little to do with Avery's comments and a lot to do with her having the knowledge that this future Death Eater would one day weasel out of Azkaban by claiming he was Imperius Curse.

In any case, Hermione's words had the desired effect. Avery's face purpled, making his pimples stand out even more starkly, and he gnashed his teeth together in outrage. Pleased that she did not need Snape's help to deal with her housemates, Hermione turned back to her work. She was about to cast Scourgify on her sap-covered arm, when she heard Avery speak again.

His Slipping Hex hit her before she had a chance to react and sent Hermione gliding backwards as if she was on skates. It struck her as odd that someone as awful as Avery would use such a mild hex. Then she realized what she was gliding backwards into.

The Devil's Snare coiled itself around her ankles and wrists before she could claw her way out of its grasp. The plant gave her body a vicious yank, and Hermione screamed as the ivy tendrils enveloped her, snaking their way around her neck and waist. The last thing she saw before the leaves surrounded her was Professor Sprout, who was still at the far end of the greenhouses by the Fanged Geraniums.

She knew she had to do something, but when the vines began to constrict, squeezing the air out of her body, she lost the ability to think. She faintly heard the shouts of the other students, but all she could focus on was the vine tightening around her neck.

With the last bit of air in her lungs, Hermione let out another desperate scream. Her voice trailed off with a tremulous whimper, and then the vines completely encapsulated her, leaving her in darkness. She tried to gasp for breath, but all she took in were leaves. With her final burst of reflection, Hermione remembered that her wand was still gripped in her right hand. However, as her wand hand was currently encased in vines and she had no way to actually speak an incantation, this realization came too late.

She had no breath to speak, but Hermione could not stop fighting. Not here in the past. Not when she knew that Ron and Harry needed her.

'Hyacinthoideus Flagrare!' she thought.

Her body convulsed with the desperate need for air, but she remained focused on her goal. Her grip on her wand tightened and she continued.

'Hyacinthoideus Flagrare! Hyacinthoideus Flagrare! Hyacinthoideus Flagrare! Hyacinthoideus Flagrare! HYACINTHOIDEUS FLAGRARE!'

Hermione felt consciousness slipping away. Then there was no more darkness. A soft blue light flooded her vision. A sudden burst of warmth started by her feet. Ever the academic, Hermione noted absently that one's feet should not feel warm as they died.

Then what had been a gentle warmth became an intense burning sensation, and Hermione realized that her spell had worked. The Devil's Snare, recognizing danger, instantly retracted. In moments, Hermione was left extremely dizzy and coughing so hard she doubled over, but she was free of the deadly vines. Between her gasping and hacking, she vaguely registered that the tip of her wand was still smoking from some well-conjured bluebell flames.

"Oh, thank goodness! Bluebell flames? Very impressive, Miss Granger! But never mind that, come here!"

Professor Sprout, wheezing from her mad dash from the Fanged Geraniums, pulled Hermione forward. She gripped Hermione's arm as the younger witch continued to gasp for breath.

"Twenty points from Slytherin, Avery, you foolish lump! Nearly killing your own housemate! Honestly! Not to mention the damage wrought on my poor plant," Sprout ranted.

Hermione was still busy coughing up leaves, but she glanced up long enough to see that, to her surprise, everybody, including the Slytherins, looked pale-faced and nervous. Mulciber and Snape, in particular, were glaring at Avery. Before she could wager a guess as to why the tide of sentiment had suddenly turned in her favor, her body was seized by another round of hacking.

"Come now, dear, it's off to the infirmary with you."

Professor Sprout put an arm around Hermione's shoulders and gently guided her toward the greenhouse door. As she hobbled along beside the older woman, Hermione heard Snape's distinct voice.

"You idiot! You could have gotten us all killed!"

Hermione frowned. Mulciber spoke next.

"She's half banshee, Avery! What the hell were you thinking, making her scream? I suspect the only reason we're still standing is that her voice was muffled by the ruddy leaves!"

So that explained the pale faces of everyone present. It occurred to Hermione that she might want to cultivate this fear of her screams, but once again, before she could think too hard on this she started coughing. She heard Avery begin to defend himself, but missed the rest of the conversation as Professor Sprout hurried her to the Hospital Wing.

~o~o~o~

End Notes: Thanks for sticking with this! Here's little sneak peek at Chapter 11:

Then two horrible images flooded her mind.

The first was of Ron turning purple as he shouted at her that he thought they had come to an understanding since he ended things with Lavender.

The second was of her twenty-years-older Professor watching her now in horror, disgusted with her for taking advantage of his younger self.

Now, I know that this is normally the point in the chapter when I bribe you to review (in a very understate, subtle sort of way). However, this time I'm not going to do that.

No, I'm not going to tell you that if you leave me a review a kitten gets its wings or your hair will instantly become thicker and more luscious. I won't even tell you that leaving reviews is the karmic equivalent of rescuing a baby penguin from an oil spill. Even though it's all 100% true.

I'm not going to mention it.

At all.

You just review if you feel like it. Never mind wingless kittens or oil-covered penguins or your could-be-thicker hair.

Really.