Title: An Overture Before the Story Begins
Fandom: Harry Potter
Characters: Minerva McGonagall, Hermione Granger
Summary: Never let it be said that Minerva McGonagall didn't take care of her own.

After a great many years of teaching, Minerva knew that the true measure of a first year pupil was not their performance during the first month of the term, but rather that of the second month. When the strangeness of being far from home and the newness of the subject matter was gone, some students who did poorly at first were able to turn their full attention to their schoolwork. Others who started off well allowed their marks to suffer when complacency set in. The Muggleborns learned what was expected of them, the dimmer students with sense chose to seek help, the brighter ones found friends who would challenge them... and then there was Miss Granger.

"You need to do something about that one, Minerva," Irma Pince said, gesturing towards the student tables with her fork before using it to spear a bite of her lunch. "She's constantly in the library. It's not that I don't appreciate seeing a Gryffindor who truly enjoys books, but there are Ravenclaw NEWT students who spend less time with me. It's not natural for a girl her age to spend so little time with her friends."

Minerva ignored Irma's predictable jab at her house's studiousness or lack thereof and followed Irma's gaze down to the Gryffindor table, where Hermione Granger sat... hmm. Sat absentmindedly eating her lunch with one hand while she turned the pages of a book with the other. Around her, several students were having a boisterous argument about Merlin only knew what. One of them threw a few grapes at another to emphasize her point. Hermione's only reaction was to push her plate away and pull her book closer to her body, protecting it.

Minerva made a mental note to discuss the enforcement of decorum during meals with Percy Weasley the next time she saw him, and frowned. "Perhaps you're right."

A commotion at the Hufflepuff table abruptly ended the conversation, but Minerva kept a surreptitious eye on Hermione throughout the rest of the meal. For all that the students interacted with her, she could have been a ghost at the table. When she gathered her things and stood to leave, Minerva excused herself from the table and timed her exit in order to reach the doors to the Great Hall at precisely the same time Hermone did. The last thing she wanted to do was summon the girl to her office for a talk when she hadn't done anything wrong.

"Professor McGonagall!" Hermione said when they bumped into each other as they reached for the door handle at the same time. "I'm sorry, I didn't see you there. Excuse me."

"Never fear, Miss Granger. I may be old, but I am not yet entirely fragile." The walked through the door and away from the commotion of the Great Hall. Minerva stopped and discreetly cast a privacy spell around the two of them. "Do you have a moment, or were you on your way somewhere?"

"No, I have a few minutes," Hermione replied. "Was there something wrong with my essay? I wasn't sure if I explained the theory in enough depth. Transfiguration is such a complicated subject when you look into it."

"Yes, it can be. Your essay was very well done. And that is why I was hoping to speak with you, truth be told. Usually by this time in the year, I've had a chance to speak with all of the new Gryffindor students when they come by my office looking for help on their homework, but I haven't seen you yet, have I?"

"No, ma'am. I'm sorry. I didn't realize I--"

"Miss Granger, relax," Minerva said, interrupting her. "While students are welcome to visit me in my office for any reason at all, you are not required to do so. There's no need to apologize. We can have a chat now and make up for it. Now then, are you enjoying your time at Hogwarts?"

Hermione nodded in excitement. "There's so much to learn here, and the library is amazing! I've read about so many interesting things. Did you know that there were wizards who were famous in the Muggle world as well? I was reading ahead in my History of Magic book. It doesn't mention that they spent time as Muggles, but I recognized the names."

"Yes, I've heard as much," McGonagall said, a smile teasing at her lips. "I must say that it's refreshing to have a student so interested in her classwork. Would it be correct to say that there are no first year Gryffindors who study quite as much as you?"

Hermione shook her head. "Lavender and Parvati aren't very interested in school. One of the boys might, I suppose, if he studies in his dorm instead of in the library." Her expression spoke volumes about what she thought the odds of the boys studying might be.

And sadly, she was probably right. Mr. Thomas was turning out to be an above-average student, and Mr. Potter's grades weren't bad either, but at the moment the Gryffindor first year only sported one budding academic. "Does it bother you that the other girls in your dormitory aren't more interested in your classes?"

"Well," Hermione said slowly, "I don't like it much when professors have to go over things again and again just because students haven't read, but Lavender and Parvati aren't the only ones who don't study, so it's not only their fault."

"No, I--" Minerva fought the urge to roll her eyes. "That's understandable, but it's not what quite what I meant. Isn't it difficult to make friends when your interests are so different to theirs?"

Hermione shrugged. "I'm used to not having friends. It's okay." She scuffed the toe of her shoe against the stone floor and looked away. "May I go, Professor? I don't want to be late to Charms. Professor Flitwick said that if everyone did well on the quiz today, we'd start learning to levitate feathers next week."

Hermione was in no danger of being late, but Minerva nodded. "Run along. I wouldn't want to keep Professor Flitwick waiting. But, Miss Granger?"

Hermione turned back around and waited.

"Let's not make it another two months before we chat, shall we? I'd like you to stop by my office every now and then, even if you don't have questions."

"Yes, ma'am," Hermione said. "Thank you."

And she was gone. It was obvious that she didn't quite understand why Minerva would make such a request, but that was okay. Something told her she'd comply, regardless.

Merlin, Minerva thought as she made her way towards her own classroom. Irma was right. So much like me at that age... Something would have to give, and soon, if the girl's stay at Hogwarts was to be a pleasant one. If she didn't make some friends in her own house soon, perhaps a reason could be invented to require her to spend some time with the first year Ravenclaw girls. Miss Brocklehurst was a Muggleborn too, wasn't she?

Yes, that would work, Minerva decided. Ravenclaws loved extra credit, as a rule, and Miss Granger likely would too. A group project of some sort would be ideal. She'd wait until next week after the Halloween celebrations were over, and then... yes. Never let it be said that Minerva McGonagall didn't take care of her own.