A/N: Hello again. Spotty internet and no social life seems to do wonders for my writing, as I have not much to do besides write and read when the net's down. Go me? Anyway, this is more of a filler piece than the others, but it felt right to put it in. I know it feels a bit different than the others, but this story hasn't followed a reliable timeline yet. Anyway, this isn't mine and I'm not getting paid.
Sunday rolled around, and Harry was feeling particularly lazy. He didn't make it down to breakfast on time, and barely caught the tail end of the meal. Nobody that he knew well was there, so he grabbed some toast and fruit to go before he made his way to the Library. Hermione, Neville and Luna were all there, and it was immediately apparent that they were waiting for him.
"Where have you been?" Hermione griped at him. "There are so many people in here that I can't even pretend to study. It's given me the twitches, but they wouldn't let me leave without you." She huffed exasperatedly at Luna and Neville, but they didn't fuss much. They never really worried about Hermione's temper until her hair started to frizz, though none were brave enough to tell her that.
"Sorry," Harry said around a mouthful of apple and toast, "I grabbed some food and came right here."
"Besides," Neville pointed out to her logically, "Where do you want to go?"
"Back to the - " Hermione cut herself off. She really didn't want to go back to the common room. Not only would that leave out Harry and Luna, but she really didn't want to run into any of her year-mates.
"The great hall is practically empty," Harry pointed out, "We could just go back there."
Hermione nodded, seeing no better option. "Sure. We can just sit wherever there's a big enough empty spot."
Back down in the great hall, Hermione was the only one significantly happier. Harry was slightly miffed at having climbed all the way to the eighth floor for nothing, so he was grumbling and Neville was distracted by the food that was still on the tables. Luna just dreamily led everyone to the far end of the Ravenclaw table, which had largely been deserted for the library.
"This should do," she said thoughtfully, as she stared intently down at the table, "as long as the poppins don't steal our books." Harry could have sworn he heard a giggle come from the table, but the other two were so used to her oddness that they ignored it and just settled down to work.
They worked happily at the table for an hour or so, before two of Harry's quills vanished into the table with all the unused silverware.
"Hey!" he shouted at the table, "Give those back!" and much to his surprise, it did. He blinked for a few seconds and then looked at everyone else. They hadn't seen anything strange, other than Harry yelling at a dining table. Or perhaps his books. Hermione led off the laughing, to be quickly joined by the others, before her books disappeared. She abruptly stopped laughing and tried shouting at the table, with mixed results. Hers weren't quite as good as Harry's.
"I'm still short my charms book!" she said indignantly. "How does a table eat a book? And why did Harry get his back, and I didn't get mine?"
"Do you want to go ask the poppins?" Luna asked. Hermione looked a bit sideways at her, but having no real options she just nodded. Luna collected all of her belongings and wandered out of the hall with the other three trailing behind. Down one floor and exactly under the great hall (at least Harry was pretty sure that's where they were), Luna stopped to talk to a picture. Usually that would be normal, but this particular painting didn't actually have any animation at all.
After a few moments of conversation, Hermione became exasperated and snapped, "Luna! Why are we here and where are my books?"
Luna just blinked at the girl, noting that her her was indeed starting to frizz. She turned immediately and tickled the pear. Neville suddenly understood where the Weasley twins got all the food for their parties, and Hermione just stood in shock.
"Luna," she asked, as her eyes rapidly took in the scene before her, "what are they?"
"House elves. My little poppins." Luna replied, as she wandered into the kitchen.
After only a couple seconds, they were approached by no less than four elves bearing food.
"What can weez do for you?" the closest one asked, as her eyes took in the students.
"Can I have my schoolbooks back?" Hermione asked quietly.
"OH! Yes. The not-food that Drippy pulled from the table. He's still little. Follow Pip," he said, as he pulled her around one of the house tables.
"Who is Pip?" Hermione asked, as she followed the elf.
"I is Pip." It said, as it continued towing her down the table. "Can yous hear right? I clean you earses for you if you wishes missuz."
"No, but thank you," Hermione was quick to reassure the elf, "I just wasn't sure who you were speaking about." The elf looked at her as if she was an idiot, and they finally reached her books on the corresponding Ravenclaw table.
"And thank you for returning my books."
"Thank you missuz. I don't think they would make a very good dinner."
"Is there somewhere else we can work where our books won't get in your way?" she asked the little elf.
"Yous all can have the annex to the hall if yous wants. Toppy, Pip and Gilly will reopen it for you after lunch."
Hermione just nodded in thanks, and hurried back to her friends. Harry was sampling a bit of everything off the offered trays, and Luna had somehow gotten her hands on a cone of cotton candy. Neville was just looking around the kitchen in awe.
"I've never seen this many house elves in one place," he whispered to Harry, and in response Harry just replied,
"I've never seen a house elf period."
"Really?" Neville looked at Harry in shock. "We have one at home, but I don't think she's as happy as these since it's just me and Gran to look after."
"Neville," Hermione asked urgently, "how are they paid? Is this what our tuition goes to?"
"No, of course not!" he said looking shocked. "A house elf wouldn't accept it if you offered."
"Then are they slaves?" she asked. Her voice was rising in pitch, and her hair was starting to do the same.
"If you want to know, just ask them," Luna said, peering over Hermione's shoulder. The bookworm jumped at the blonde girl so close behind her, but hid it well and went to find the closest elf. She found one chopping potatoes, and kneeling down beside it, tapped it on the shoulder.
"What's your name?" she asked quietly.
"Twing, missuz," it said to her.
"Why do you work here?" was her next question.
"Because I was dropped by my momma here," it replied, still chopping potatoes
"Do you get paid?" She asked, and the elf looked incredibly offended before squeak-shouting
"I am a good elf. Of course I is not paid!"
"Sorry," Hermione whispered, aware that she had offended the small creature, "but I've never even seen an elf before."
"Twing understands that missuz didn't know, but Twing has to chop."
"Will you answer another question for me?" Hermione asked.
"If she is not insulting Ms Hoggy, she can ask a question," the elf snapped, apparently in defense of the castle.
"Why don't you want to get paid?"
"Miss Hoggy gives us her magic. We love her. She is the bestest mistress ever. Does little mistress need more? I thinks its time for you to go." The elf squeaked at her.
Hermione, feeling chastened for some reason, hustled out of the workspace.
"Are you happy now?" Luna asked, as she rejoined the group.
"Much happier. They seem to love the castle." Luna nodded and frowned at the same time.
"They're lucky to have such a good mistress. All house elves are loyal to the one that gives them magic, but some are treated very poorly."
"Oh yes," Neville agreed. "Gran threw out one of my third cousins that tried to kick Topsy. Said people like her weren't welcome in our house."
"People actually do that? That's horrible!"
The others could only nod in agreement. "I bet Malfoy's family treats their elf badly," Neville said with a sigh.
"So what do you think the rooms will look like?"
"Hermione, are you able to talk about anything else?"
"Well, can I help it if I'm excited? And house elves are wonderful."
"Yes they are, but you need to be careful with them," Neville cautioned.
"How so?" Harry asked, curiously.
"Well, they're bound to the castle, so they'll do all they can to protect her and keep her clean."
"But that sounds fine," Harry said, trying to figure out how they could be bad.
"Well, theoretically it would be, but if you upset or offend them then they'll just stop helping you, since it's not the students they're bound to."
"So they only help us because they like keeping Hogwarts clean, and we make it messy?"
"Well, it's a bit more than that," Luna tried to explain, "But yes."
"House elves also love to be helpful," Neville tacked on, "And if you treat them well they can become almost family. Mistreated house elves though... you never know what they're going to do. And they can be wicked powerful sometimes."
"And if you seem like you pose a threat to their master they can take some pretty extreme measures," Luna added sagely.
Hermione survived the rest of the morning by studying with the others in an empty classroom, but as lunch rolled around she was practically dancing in her seat. She also couldn't stop thinking about the promised study room. They all eventually gave into Hermione's badgering and wandered into the great hall and ate lunch at the end of Ravenclaw, where they were, usually unmolested by the other years and houses.
They made an odd picture, with all four of them huddled over their respective advanced books, Charms, Potions, Transfiguration and Herbology. Occasionally someone would ask for food, or they'd look up from a book to ask a question, but in general, they passed the time in comfortable silence.
Since the summer, Harry had been slowly learning the interactions and base compositions of many potions ingredients, but the maddeningly complex tables and charts that he'd made to try to remember the different reactions took ages to learn properly. He had constructed his own very basic calming potion the other night, under the inspection of Professor Snape, without a recipe, and had earned some rare words of praise. Progress was slow, but it didn't take long for Hermione and Neville to realize how far advanced he was from the rest of them in Potions.
A few days into the term when Harry was snarling and moaning over his potions work for the first time in months and Hermione offered to help. Harry gently turned her down, but she caught a glance of what he was working on and her mouth had dropped open.
"Harry, what on earth is that?"
"Potions," he had sighed, realizing that he was lucky to have kept her in the dark for even a few months.
"Yes, but what on earth is the assignment?"
"It's trying to find a way to improve the brewing process of the calming potion that they gave us in the textbook."
"That's definitely not our potions homework, Harry."
"No," he agreed, "it's not your potions work. It's mine."
"But why is yours different, and why are you using that textbook?"
"Because?" he lamely offered up, but since she was tapping her foot in that way, he decided that he should probably answer her. "Because I may have connived Professor Snape into giving me some extra lessons?" He trailed off at the end, and Hermione sat and stared at him for a second.
"You voluntarily spend more time with Professor Snape than you have to? And I thought he had you in detention all the..." She trailed off at that, and after a second her hands flew to her mouth. "Oh. My. God. Harry. It's not detention you have, is it? How on earth did you convince him to do it? What on earth?"
"Well," He sighed again, realizing that he may as well tell her the whole story, "I've always liked potions. When I got the textbooks before first year, it was what I was most interested in, and then I got that detention at the flying lessons, and it was with him, and it really wasn't bad." Hermione raised an eyebrow, as if to say she didn't believe him, and he plowed on. By now, Neville was listening in curiosity, "So I stewed all the toadstools the Professor had, and apparently far faster than he expected, because then he had to find something else for me to do,"
"You didn't have to scrub cauldrons?" Neville asked incredulously.
"Well, he said something about the rule that first years not having brooms was kind of ridiculous, especially if they knew how to fly them, but that's not the point." Neville's eyes were bugging out at this point, as he was starkly terrified of Professor Snape, and Harry doubted that he'd ever heard a good word about him in his life.
"But while I was doing all that drudgery that he didn't want to do, he was removing the venom from doxies, and afterwards since I had been so good, and he knew I really liked potions, then he let me watch, and then I helped him with that until curfew, and then he said that I could come back again and help with ingredient preparation if I wanted to, since he'd welcome the help."
"Luna, why doesn't this surprise you?" Hermione finally asked, since she and Neville were both staring at Harry open-mouthed.
"Well, Snape isn't that bad if you're good at potions," she replied, "and Harry is really, really good. Truly. You haven't seen him in there, have you? Plus, you two are Gryffs. Of course he hates you."
"But you can't tell anyone that. I have to be in detention with him every night. Even Dumbledore still thinks he hates me, and it's been two years. He only says that he wants his reputation to stay intact, but I think it's a huge joke for him that Professor Dumbledore doesn't know. Seriously. Please don't tell." Harry was getting seriously worried by now. "He might stop the lessons, and I'm doing so well, and-"
"Harry, don't worry," Hermione cut him of, as he was starting to get genuinely worked up, "Why would I tell? The only people who would care are all horrible to me anyway."
"See?" Luna pointed out, "That's exactly what I said."
Now he could only laugh now that they had taken so long to figure it out, but then again, all of them had their own specialties. Neville was far and beyond Professor Sprout's favorite, and Harry knew that he sometimes went out to the greenhouses on Saturdays to help her with new and interesting things. And Luna wasn't exactly getting tutoring from Professor Flitwick, but he was constantly recommending new books for her. She ate them nearly as fast as Hermione, but since she mainly only cared about charms it was far more focused, and Hermione excelled in every subject she tried, but her real talents were Transfiguration.
"You three put me to shame, you know," She said, as she was packing up her books after lunch that day, as they were preparing to move into their new room.
"How on earth can you say that?" Neville asked her curiously, "You have straight O's in every class. You're taking every single elective, and I still haven't figured out how you're doing that."
"But I'm good at everything," She replied, and the other's just shook their heads in exasperation.
"We did realize that, Hermione," Harry commented, while rolling his eyes.
"No, but you're all really, really great at a subject. I bet you all already know what you want to do with your lives." At that, they all kind of shrugged and nodded, so she continued, "But I have no idea what I want to do." The four of them looked at her like she was nuts, so she elaborated, as they started to make their way over to the antechamber.
"Well, I don't know what I want to do in the future. I don't even really know what there is available to me. I don't think I want to work for this government since it seems quite prejudiced, but I can't just give up my magical heritage." She sighed, as they pushed the doors open, but the sigh quickly turned into a gasp.
"Oh, it's perfect. It's so lovely. We even have our own desks, but they're close enough to talk, and there's a fireplace, and everything. And these chairs look nice." The others rolled their eyes at her, but they couldn't deny that the room was just what they needed, although quite large for just the four of them.
It didn't remain just the four of them for too long though, as other students saw them enter more frequently over the next week. It gradually became known as the inter-house common room.
A/N: Hope you liked it. All reviews welcome, good or bad; I'll take any feedback you have.