Hermione Granger ran out of the girls' dormitory, out of breath. Her face red, she grabbed her schoolbag from the foot of an overstuffed armchair and raced out of the common room.
She was late for her first class of the day, which was double Potions with the Slytherins. Five minutes late, she told herself. And Snape is going to take away all the House points I earned yesterday. She was running so fast and so hard that she ran into someone as she rounded a corner.
"Watch it, Mudblood!" Draco Malfoy hissed, shoving her out of his way. She made to keep running, but he grabbed her wrist. His lip curled into a sneer. "Late for class?"
"Not unlike you," she spat, wrenching her arm free of his grasp. She smirked at the panicked look on his face. He'd forgotten about Potions. "See you in class," she said, smiling sweetly.
"Miss Granger," Snape drawled in a bored tone, watching Hermione fall into her seat several minutes later. "Mmm, ten minutes late. And that'll be ten points from Gryffindor."
There was a collective groan from the left side of the room. Ron gave Hermione a dark look before returning to the textbook in front of him. Harry leaned towards Hermione as Snape turned to his desk. "Are you alright?"
Hermione nodded with a smile and whispered, "I'm fine, Harry. Just a little tired."
"Not only do we have the nerve to show up late for class," Snape said in an annoyed whisper, "but we have the gall to ignore the directions given to us. Hmm. That'll be another ten points from Gryffindor."
The Slytherins all gave Hermione a thumbs-up. Snape turned his attention back to the class.
"Now. Judging by the incompetency I've seen this week from...certain houses," he said, pointedly glancing at the Gryffindors. "We'll be mixing things up today. I'm going to divide you all into groups of two, and you have until the end of the second period to make a Fulton Potion."
Ron looked bewildered. "What the bloody hell is a Fulton Potion?" he whispered to Hermione, but she ignored him.
"The pairs are as follows: Weasley and Zabini, Potter and Goyle, Brown and Parkinson, Granger and Malfoy..."
Hermione glanced at Malfoy and realized too late that she must've had a look of horror on her face by the way he was smirking. He smoothly gathered up his books and joined her at one of the small tables near the back of the room. "Long time, no see, Mudblood," he said quietly as Hermione began adding objects to their cauldron. He sat down in a chair and leaned back. "I'll just let you take this one," he told her, yawning. Snape's eyes flickered in the direction of their table, but he said nothing as Hermione continued adding ingredients to the cauldron.
Hermione remained silent throughout the first period, but when she realized that she still had an hour left to work on the potion and that she was getting no help from Malfoy, she spun around to face him. "Are you going to help me?"
He sneered. "Are you going to make me?"
She made a face at him, then turned around to find Snape peering into her cauldron. "Mr. Malfoy, I can sympathize with your desire to dissociate with Miss Granger, but I must insist that you help with the project. We don't want Miss Granger to get all the glory, now, do we?" He cautiously sniffed the potion and walked away without a word--a sign Hermione recognized as an indication that she had done well. If I'd left him to make the potion, I would've received detentions for a week AND lost points, she thought to herself as Malfoy took a position beside her.
"So, Mudblood, what do I do?"
"Go jump off a bridge," she replied simply, pounding a Devil's Snare seed into a purple liquid.
Malfoy grabbed the book from her and began to read. "As much as I loathe the idea of being civil to you, I don't have a choice. So deal with it."
Hermione squirted some of the purple liquid in his direction, hitting him right in the eye.
"Miss Granger!" Snape descended on them like a buzzard. "Devil's Snare seed, is it?" He moved to Draco's side of the table and examined the boy's eye. It was now turning a bright shade of orange.
"Potter!" Snape spat, grabbing Hermione roughly by the arm. "Kindly escort Mr. Malfoy to the hospital wing. And as for you, Miss Granger," he said sickeningly. "You can assist Mr. Goyle with his potion. And detention, every night next week." Hermione nodded and walked over to Goyle, who was waving his hands desperately over his potion, which was smoking.
Hermione's eyes widened and she whispered, "Never mind." She realized that she wouldn't be here for detention next week--no one would. It was the last week of term, and on Monday they would all return home on the Hogwarts Express. But if Snape didn't remember, who was she to remind him? She smiled to herself as she waved her wand over Goyle's potion.
* * * * * *
"'E din't ca' tha'?"
Ron swallowed thickly. "He didn't catch that?"
The Golden Trio sat at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall at lunchtime, discussing what had taken place during Potions that morning. "I guess not. He didn't call me back or anything."
"Well, maybe he'll forget he even assigned the detention and let you go."
Ginny choked on her steak-and-kidney pie. "This is Snape we're talking about. Do you really think he's going to forget he assigned detention to a student? And a Gryffindor, no less."
Hermione sighed and leaned on her fist as she glanced out the window.
"Hmm, that's funny, post came this morning," Ron commented, and Hermione saw Errol swoop down over the table just in time for her to catch a letter he held in his beak.
"It must be for me," Ron told her, reaching for the envelope. But on the front, in plain black lettering, were the words "Hermione Granger."
Hermione ripped open the letter and read the message several times.
Dear Miss Granger,
Your presence is requested tonight in the Room of Requirement for an important meeting. The meeting will commence just before dinner in the Great Hall, so please, do not be late.
Professor Albus Dumbledore
Ron and Harry, who had been reading the letter over Hermione's shoulder, now turned to look at her, their mouths gaping open.
"Really!" Hermione said, shoving the letter into her robes. "What's the matter with you two?"
"Since when does Dumbledore hold meetings in the Room of Requirement?" Harry asked incredulously. "And why only you?"
Hermione shrugged and looked around. It was true; no one else had received the letter—
Hermione grabbed Ron's arm. Another owl was flying away from the Slytherin table, but none of them could see who had received the letter.
"Could be a coincidence," Ron said nonchalantly, but Hermione began to worry. Just her, and a Slytherin. That was a recipe for disaster. What was Dumbledore planning?
Ginny broke the silence that had settled over them. "I'm really going to miss you all next year." She looked at Harry, who quickly grabbed her hand and held it.
"We'll write every day," Harry assured her. "We're going to miss you too."
They looked at each other with such longing that Hermione and Ron blushed and turned away.
"Herbology's after lunch," Neville told them, leaning in and breaking Harry and Ginny out of their reverie. "And then Care of Magical Creatures." He took a list out of his schoolbag. "And our last class of the day is History of Magic."
Professor Sprout had a surprise for the Gryffindors and the Hufflepuffs during the lesson that afternoon: They would be planting their own small versions of the Whomping Willow.
"Can we keep them in the school?" Lavendar Brown asked eagerly, gazing at the silver seeds.
Professor Sprout laughed. "If it was the middle of the year, I'd say, that's fine. But since today is the last day of term, we're going to plant them and keep them out here for the first years to study in the fall."
* * * * * *
"No homework. How much better can this day get?" Ron asked his friends as they made their way towards Hagrid's cabin. Hermione was checking off various essays and reading assignments in her Homework Helper.
"Not much better," Hermione replied with a grin. While she would be happy to have no homework for the first time all year, she was so curious about that night's meeting that she found it difficult to enjoy the lack of homework.
The Slytherins were already waiting next to Hagrid's cabin, and they were all crowded around Malfoy.
"Of course, I knew it would be me," he was saying in an arrogant tone. "You know, I've been a prefect and very nearly made it to the position of Head Boy…" His voice trailed off as the Gryffindors approached. Everyone went silent and there was an awkward pause as Gryffindor and Slytherin stared at each other. Hermione noticed with a smirk that Malfoy's orange eye had been restored to its normal color.
"It's probably nothing of consequence," Neville said loudly. "If it was, they wouldn't know about it."
Malfoy sneered. "You only wish, Longbottom."
"Meaning, your brain is too small to comprehend the height of the privilege I have been given."
"Or maybe his bottom is too long," Pansy Parkinson snickered. It would have been an embarrassing situation were it not for the fact that Hagrid appeared at the door to his cabin.
"Righ', you're all here," he said loudly. He clapped his hands and gestured to the pumpkin patch behind his cabin. "Since today's the las' day of term, I've got a bit of a surprise fer yeh," he told them happily, beckoning them to follow him around to the back of the cabin.
On the other side of the pumpkin patch was a large metal cage filled with what looked like huge fluffy pillows.
"These," Hagrid said excitedly, "are Muffly-Binks."
"Muffly-what?" Malfoy drawled, as if he was asking a child to repeat himself.
"Muffly-Binks," Hagrid responded, apparently unaware of Malfoy's attitude. "They look harmless enough, bu' they're attracted to wood. If they get too near wood…well, we won't deal with that right now. They aren't dangerous, Mister Malfoy, if thas' what yer worried abou'." Hermione felt a surge of pride as the Gryffindors took on a Malfoy-ish sneer.
* * * * * *
History of Magic was the only class that was completely uneventful. Hermione began to sweat as the end of the period ticked nearer. She wondered whether she had done something wrong, she wondered what Dumbledore was planning, she wondered why she—and a Slytherin—were the only ones invited to this meeting.
"I'll be down to dinner after the meeting," Hermione assured Harry and Ron, who looked concerned. "And I'll tell you all about it." She gave them each a hug, then headed toward the secluded corridor on an upper floor where she knew she'd find the Room of Requirement.
I need to attend a meeting with Dumbledore, she thought, walking back and forth next to the lonely stretch of wall. I need to attend a meeting with Dumbledore.
The door appeared, and Hermione raced to open it—but she slowed down, realizing that her hands were sweaty and her heart was racing. She took a deep breath and opened the door, calmly and slowly.
The inside was decorated with four colors: Maroon and gold on one side, and green and silver on another side. Gryffindor and Slytherin, she thought to herself. So it's true.
There were several couches in the center of the room on top of brilliantly colored carpets. Two desks sat at each end of the large room, and a crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling.
"Hello?" Hermione edged farther into the room, taking off her cloak and setting it by the floor. She had chosen a simple white Muggle dress to wear for the meeting, so she was neither dressed too casual nor too fancy.
There were six rooms that led off the main room, three on each side of the wall—and naturally, Hermione decided to investigate. The rooms on the Slytherin side were decorated with green and silver paints and fabric. There was a large marble bathroom, a room that looked like it was a study, and a bedroom with the most comfortable looking bed Hermione had ever seen.
The Gryffindor side of the hall was no different—it had the same contents in each room, only with different colors.
She was startled out of her trance by the sound of a door opening. She turned to see who the newcomer was, expecting to see Dumbledore.
Hermione dropped her schoolbag on the floor, glaring at the man who stood before her. "What are you doing here?"
"What am I doing here? I should be asking you that," he said, turning up his nose in disgust. "Clearly, Dumbledore didn't give me the correct instructions. There's no possible way he'd make me share a meeting with such scum as you."
Hermione launched herself across the room, shoving Malfoy out of the way and wrenching open the door. "I'm the one who's leaving!" she shouted, slamming the door behind her. The door melted into the wall, and she began to pace again.
I need to find the meeting that Dumbledore wants me to attend, she thought. I need to find the meeting I'm supposed to be in. A door once again revealed itself, and she opened it—only to discover Malfoy watching the doorway intently.
"I guess you're not the one who has to go," Malfoy said disdainfully. "If you don't mind, Mudblood."
Hermione ran to the Gryffindor side of the room, gathering up her school things and hurtling into her room. She slammed the door yet again and threw herself onto the bed, angered by Malfoy's words. He was mean, oh yes, he was always mean. But he'd never referred to her like she was the dirt on his shoes. She hated feeling inferior, even to Ron and Harry. They belonged in the wizarding world, they deserved to be here at Hogwarts by birthright. But what did she have? She had to prove that she was good enough, she'd always had to prove that she was just as good as the pureblood prats that stalked the corridors. They didn't have to do anything to prove that they belonged. But she? She would always have to prove her worth. And she hated it.
She heard stamping outside her door. Sitting up, she listened intently as something was thrown across the living area. She could hear bits and pieces of Malfoy's muttering: "Can't be right—the old coot must've made a mistake—not fraternizing with a Mudblood—"
"You got something you wanna share with the class?" Hermione asked roughly, opening her door to face him.
"Not with you, Mudblood," he said, his eyes boring into hers with a fierce hatred. "Let me be."
Hermione watched as he moved to the couch and put his head in his hands. "Where's the old coot?"
"Dumbledore! Where's Dumbledore? He sent me a letter saying I was supposed to attend a meeting."
Hermione shrugged. "I don't know. But I do know that I'm going to look for him."
Even as she said it, she heard a familiar sound—the turning of the doorknob. "That must be him."
She and Malfoy both moved towards the door. Hermione reached for the doorknob and turned it, but it was locked. She whirled around to find Malfoy only a few inches away.
"What did you do? It's locked!" she yelled, pointing a finger at him as if it was all his fault.
He rolled his eyes. "Like I'd purposely lock myself in a room with you, Granger."
Hermione drew her wand and smirked at the flicker of fear she saw in his eyes. "Alohomora!" she said loudly, pointing her wand at the door. Nothing happened. She tried again. "Bombarda!"
Malfoy let out a low whistle. "If you can't unlock it, no one can."
"Was that a compliment?"
"Nope," he returned, examining his fingernails. "I just don't want to have to try unlocking it." He gave his signature Malfoy smirk. Well, I guess we're stuck here, Granger. But I'm going to pretend you're not here." He went back over to the couch. Picking up his wand, he pointed to the chandelier and made tiny green flames shoot from candle to candle.
Hermione, however, was not going to give up. She glanced at the magical keyhole, moving her wand over it. Then she tried putting her eye to the keyhole—and she saw the swish of purple robes around the corner. Just before it disappeared, a dead, blackened hand swung back, revealing a golden key. Dumbledore.