Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, nor do I make any sort of profit from this hobby.

Author's note: Oh my, new chapter? Story absolutely not forgotten, y'all! Well, my planned writing schedule didn't work out at all now, did it… This because I've been in between betas for quite some time now, and truth is – I really need one, as it turns out that writing in a foreign language is much harder than just reading it.

All credits for Beta work now goes to the lovely Miss Vulpine Vixi.

Chapter 16

Hermione let her friends enter the room before she stepped in herself, and she watched them marvel over the Room of Requirement's sheer existence. James looked at her with something like awe in his eyes. He really hadn't believed her when she said that she knew more about Hogwarts than him.

Hermione just smiled at him in answer, while the others looked around, and she silently wondered where to begin. Lily, Lydia and Jenny hadn't received the same profound insight into why they should take on this new task, as the three Marauders had some nights ago.

It turned out though, that Hermione needn't have worried. The girls readily accepted the rather thin explanation she gave them about how and why she was starting a secret defence group. All the disturbing things going on outside of the school had them more or less expecting something like this to happen. They were Gryffindors after all. And, as Hermione was under the guardianship of Albus Dumbledore himself, they didn't question her motives.

The girls were game. They had seen Hermione fight.

Very well then. Hermione felt a little heartened and started her lesson.

Hermione had prepared the room to resemble a full blown obstacle course, complete with trenches to jump and wade through, and high walls for climbing. She knew from experience that if the Hogwarts education lacked something, it was physical exercise. Outside of Quidditch, which was limited in number and gave little physical exertion, nothing else physical was offered. Once, Hermione might have sneered at the need of such exertions, believing the greatest rewards to come from books, but nowadays she knew better and thus intended to pass on everything she knew to the ones in her charge. Their minds had to work without glitches during physical pressure, as much as it needed to be prepared for mental stress.

From her place on top of a slightly raised platform, she observed her friends quite happily following her initial instructions to move about the course. After a couple of laps though, their laughs has been replaced by sulky grumblings from almost all of them.

"Really?" Jenny shouted at Hermione, a little out of breath as she struggled to get over the highest obstacle for the fourth time around. "This… isn't what… I expected to…"

Her words were cut short by Hermione's sudden actions.

"Expelliarmus!" she shouted unexpectedly, pointing her wand at the blonde girl whose eyes widened as she fought to get her weapon out while still holding tight to the wall she was about to climb over. The thin stick of wood flew easily out of her pocket before she could do anything about it.

Hermione didn't waste any time though, and went for the same spell once more, and before any of her friends seemed to grasp what had happened, she held James' wand in her hand too. The look he gave her was of such hurt bewilderment that she couldn't help but laugh out loud.

By now, the others had all dived for cover, and Hermione felt the time had come to wrap up the exercise. She motioned for them to abandon the obstacle course.

"This was really mostly an attempt to prove a point," she started, after giving back the wands she'd taken from James and Jenny. "Anyone care to guess what I'm trying to tell you?"

"Don't get stuck climbing a wall?" Remus suggested with a smile. She'd known he wouldn't have any problem with these exercises, his werewolf genetics making him both stronger and faster than most ordinary humans.

"Something like that," she mumbled back at him, a slight smile behind her words.

Sirius too seemed amused with her impromptu instructions, and lounged against one of the tables by the wall. He wasn't particularly out-of-breath either, as both him and James spent more than their share of free time on their brooms. Hermione glanced at him, and continued.

"It's not only about being in shape, although that is certainly more than important."

Her voice had taken on a slightly more serious tone than earlier, and her classmates all took places around her on the floor. They had found a stack of cushions against one of the walls, and Hermione could swear they were the same ones that Dumbledore's Army would be using in a couple of decades. The thought bothered her, but she shook it off. Deal with it.

The three Marauders, in their turn, took in their newest friend's changed appearance. Just as last night in Dumbledore's office, Hermione spoke with a new quality to her voice, strong and confident. It apparently did her good to not have to hide from everyone. Sirius, now seated on the floor with his legs outstretched before him, watched her intently and wondered if she would ever tell the girls her whole story.

Hermione knew there were some crucial points she had to get through to them before they could start any real basic training.

"Well, yes. Remus is quite right," she smiled a little and nodded to the prefect. "Don't get stuck, ever. Movement is everything. Never give an enemy the chance to pin you down. I want every one of you able to get through that obstacle course while continuously firing both offensive and defensive spells. Use it, and make sure you get in the best shape of your lives."

The air in the Room of Requirement seemed to hum with her words, and Hermione felt an odd affection for the room. She knew it would help them and she felt encouraged. Already, Harry Potter's parents and their loving friends were getting ready to fight rather than being slaughtered by treachery.

She was changing things. Just as she'd promised herself.

Heartened by this sudden feeling of accomplishment, she gave off a blazing smile and continued. "And probably the most important thing to know, is that there are no fair fights. If you get hold of your opponent's wand – snap it in two."

A shiver seemed to go through everyone present. This was something so taboo and hard to grasp for members of the wizarding world, almost comparable with the feeling of having to chop someone's arm off.

"I'm serious," she said, watching the others. She started shrugging out of her robes. The room was warm enough for the loosely fitted pants and long sleeved top she wore underneath. "Never ever give a Death Eater a chance to get his weapon back. They are the epitome of evil, and something we most probably will have to meet at some point or other. You need to know how to handle it."

Everyone's faces were masks of seriousness. They knew Hermione wasn't just speaking hypothetically, not after the Hogsmeade business they'd all witnessed.

"Battles aren't to be expected to be fought in duel form. Anyone who's able to run, jump, twist, turn and hide at the same time as they're doing some major spell work, will have all the advantages."

There were nods all around the group of people, and Hermione watched them with a strange feeling brewing in her stomach. It felt weird, telling them what to do, but they needed to learn and there wasn't much time. She knew they all did well in their DADA class, and there was certainly nothing wrong with their confidence and bravery, something that had shown when they didn't hesitate to join in when others were in danger.

Gryffindors through and through.

Hermione considered them for a moment, and then stood up again, motioning for the others to follow her.

"I'd like to try something," she said, and then proceeded to position Sirius and Remus facing each another in the open space they had been occupying, a few paces apart. The boys both laughed and joked in anticipation, as everyone else moved aside.

"Stand still," she ordered them, smirking a little when Sirius jumped around, flexing his muscles and waving his wand about. Remus at least had the decency to behave like the prefect he was, but he too was laughing at his mate's foolishness.

"And now," Hermione commanded in a firm voice, "drop your wands."

All heads in the room turned towards her. She held a firm face.

"I told you. Don't expect all your battles to be wizarding duels."

She watched as the two boys, the black haired and the golden haired hesitantly let go of their wands, still eyeing each other. The tension in the room was suddenly high.

"So we're going to, like, wrestle each other?" Sirius asked her, still not letting Remus out of his sight. "This isn't really fair you know?" He glanced at Hermione and then the let his gaze slip over to the other girls in the room, knowing more than well that they didn't know anything about Remus' additional capabilities.

Hermione frowned. This seemed to take more time than she had anticipated. The use of wands was so deeply integrated into wizarding minds that even the thought of fighting without one rendered them almost incapable of action.

She walked up to Sirius and he eyed her with suspicion.

"Now what are you planning?" he asked, looking down at her with curiosity clear on his face, his eyebrows slightly raised.

"Go stand with the others," she ordered him, and felt amused by the stiff bow he gave her before sauntering off, a humorous gleam in his eyes.

Remus smiled widely at his new opponent, his wandless hands at his sides. Hermione dropped her own wand on top of her discarded robes and soon she stood before him, as weaponless as him. There were a couple of paces between them, and they now faced each other. Their audience observed them with interest. James and Sirius quietly took bets on the outcome with slight grins on their faces.

Hermione smiled, stretched her arms up and got up on the balls of her feet. It almost felt like old times, she and Remus against each other. This was safe. This was fun.

Remus Lupin was both fast and strong. Hermione knew this. Going up against him without a wand was bordering on stupidity, but she also knew that he still was under the stupid comprehension that fighting should be fair. She wanted to show them all that this was something they had to get out of their heads.

Remus held her gaze and then bowed, just like in any duel.

She rolled her eyes. Oh Remus, you have yet to learn.

"No bowing in my class," she declared fiercely, and then suddenly sprinted towards him.

Remus reacted quite instinctual to seeing the small witch coming straight at him with speed. He stretched out his arms in an attempt to get them around her, trying to lock her in. But his look of satisfaction turned into bewilderment when he found himself with only an armful of air.

Hermione had turned her trajectory movement into a full turnaround, ducked under his arms, and suddenly she stood up straight behind him instead, holding the tip of a silver dagger a hairs breath from the skin of his neck.

The room had gone absolutely quiet. No one breathed.

The whole thing had taken no more than a couple of seconds, but the still moment seemed to last much longer than it actually did.

Hermione stepped back and shot an apologetic look at the werewolf who slowly turned around and was watching her, his honey brown eyes wide. She knew the silver could have seriously injured him, should she actually have followed through, and she knew he knew this too.

"Sorry," she mouthed at him, her back against the others. Sincerity was radiating from her eyes.

Then the corners of Remus' mouth went up and he chuckled. "That was really something," he said, shaking his head a little.

"Pay up," Hermione heard Sirius say to James in the background.

She smiled then too, and pulled the right leg of her pants up, revealing a knife sheath strapped to her calf.

Someone gave a low whistle behind her.

She slid the knife back in place, covered it all up again and then turned around.

"I guess you're trying to say that there's nothing like cheating?" James asked her, a huge grin on his face.

"Ah," Hermione smiled back at him. "Part of the lesson learned then!"

And because she was Hermione Granger, she picked up her wand and with a flick of it, she made a blackboard soar across the room towards them. Another flick made a couple of key points appear on its black surface.

"Remember these things," she prompted. "They will save your lives someday."

The walls were shaking.

Her breathing came out in short bursts. "It won't hold," she mumbled frantically, panic colouring her words.

Strands of lank hair lay against her clammy forehead. Her face was streaked with dirt, making the whites of her wide eyes stand out in the dark room.

"It's not going to hold, the wards'll brake down any second," she whispered again. She had repeated this over and over, unconsciously, for almost two hours now. None of the people present bothered to take the time to contradict her any more. They hardly looked at each other. By now, they kept their own distress on the inside. Waiting it out.

A particularly strong blast made her draw her shaky breath again. She stared into the darkness, panting, wringing her hands together.

He reached out then, and took her shaking hands in his. She jumped in fright before understanding what it was that had touched her. "Shh…" he whispered, "Just breathe. Focus on your breathing." When she found his darkened honey brown eyes in the gloom, looking into hers, she swallowed and then nodded.

"Good girl." No smile there to comfort her though. No one had smiled for a long time.

Suddenly, the bedlam ceased. The unexpected quietness boomed in their ears, such a contrast to the commotion that had gone down for the last couple of hours.

They all sat up a little straighter, not sure about what this development meant. She slowly let go of his hands, realizing only then how she had grasped them so tightly that he had to massage them together to get some life into his fingers.

She caught his gaze and mouthed "Sorry," to him, and although there was no real smile in return, the corners of his mouth twitched a little. The tiniest bit.

And then the wall opposite them exploded.

Hermione regained sudden consciousness with a deep icy feeling in her chest, from her especially horrible dream… except for her it wasn't just a dream, but a memory. The bed covers were damp from sweat, and twisted tightly around her body from where she had tossed and turned in her sleep, and she could feel her heart pounding in her ears. Slowly, she rose to rest upon her elbows, looking around the still dark dormitory.

She hadn't had such a nightmare for several months, but now it left her nearly hyperventilating. She still heard the loud bangs, could still smell the fear and despair amongst the gathered Order people. She could almost taste the dust that flew around the room whilst their last safe house was under Death Eater attack.

Her friends were still sleeping soundly and she sunk down again, wiping sweat from her brow.

She suspected that this certain memory was resurfacing because of the recent interaction with Remus Lupin. Seeing his younger self somehow triggered her sub consciousness to bring forward those moments she tried to forget.


No, she scolded herself. Don't forget. Never forget. Bring it all out and make sure these things never happen.

Alone, awake in the dark, she slowly calmed down from the dream, and thought of last night's meeting. It left her with a feeling of content, despite the bad memory that had triggered it. She'd known all along that the first training wouldn't offer them much practice, but they at least learned that she meant business. With a smile, Hermione recalled their grumblings when she had ended the night by making them all run her obstacle course until even the Quidditch players sweat through.

She intended to begin to drill them with the most basic rules of fighting. Whilst they all ran and climbed around the room, Hermione reminded them of the importance of movement, how they would need to be able to keep a cool head and think on their feet. These facts were hard to exaggerate, and she really wanted them to understand that if you always kept on the move and didn't get yourself locked in, you also forced the enemy to rethink their own strategy again and again. And then you just had to hope that you turned out to be the clever one in the end.

She decided to postpone the one-on-one combat training until later on, when all of them would come prepared. Her little trick with the knife had made them all want to try it out for themselves, but she was adamant to avoid rushing things.

"A weapon you don't know how to use belongs to your enemy," she had told them. A cliché perhaps, but it was true. She knew that they first of all needed to get some of the basics. And after all, she didn't think any one of them would be able to actually sink the knife into another person. There was a long way to go still.

But it felt good, it sure did, to have started at last.

Hermione had truly enjoyed her trip to Diagon Alley in the morning the day before. She had been able to get hold of, not only the dagger that had been strapped to her calf during practice, but also the thing she'd missed most these last weeks. After a visit to Ollivander's, she soon procured a secondary wand, along with fitting leather wrist sheaths for both of the wooden sticks. She felt whole again; ready to take on her enemies.

She only wished she had someone to really practice combat with. She hadn't had a good duel since the last Order meeting, where Alastor Moody still tried to get a hang of using Occlumency within fighting. None of the other Order members had time for physical training, and she couldn't rely on Remus to give her much of a competition in this time. Not yet any way.

Oh well. There was always that bloody obstacle course to tackle.

She smiled then, and got up from her damp bed. Nothing like some exercise in the morning to calm the nerves.

When the alarm clock rang in the girls' bedroom, Hermione was already in the midst of getting dressed after her shower. She'd needed it after the early morning's workout. Hermione didn't think she had any right to yell at anyone at all, if she wasn't in enough shape herself to finish the obstacle course, so she had promised herself to try to get in a run every morning before breakfast.

"Merlin's pants! It hurts!" came a weak grumbling from under Jenny's covers. She moaned as she tried to knock off the noisy clock on top of her bed side table.

Hermione laughed silently at this, and even more so when the wailing started behind Lydia's bed-hangings. It seemed that sore muscles were something of a bother all around this morning.

"See you at breakfast," smiled Hermione and waved at her roommates, before heading down to the Great Hall. She was feeling famished, not having had much of an appetite these last few chaotic days.

Whilst walking the castle's chilly corridors, she thought of Lily Evans. A slight feeling of unease brewed in her stomach, having nothing to do with hunger. She had been wondering about if it would be right to fill the red-haired girl in on some of the secrets, but at the same time she feared it would do more harm than good at this point… mostly from the fact that Lily could hardly stand to be around her destined future husband. What would happen if Hermione spilled these details to the couple? Would James Potter ever shape up enough to gain her love, if he was thinking it was already a done deal? And would Lily ever give him the chance, if she felt pushed toward him against her own free will?

Hermione furrowed her brow and let out the breath she didn't know she had held. No, it was probably best to keep Lily out of it, for the moment at least. She wanted Harry Potter to be born, so much that it hurt. To see that boy grow up without the neglect and torment she'd known him to have to live through… She blinked and shook her head to clear some of her thoughts.

The Great Hall was almost empty when she entered it. There weren't many people already dressed and walking about at this hour, and she had almost the whole Gryffindor table for herself. Hermione sat down and gave herself a view of the Slytherin table further down the hall. A couple of silver and green clad students had managed to get ready early for the day, and among them she saw the skinny form of a sixth year boy, seated somewhat afar from the others. All his attention was focused on a book that lay open besides his oatmeal.

Severus Snape, Hermione mused, biting into an apple.

The young Snape was as sarcastic and short tempered as his adult self, and Hermione almost wanted to sway in her initial determination to recruit him. But despite his youthful tendencies to involve himself with Dark Magic, she also knew him to be very intelligent and highly skilled in almost every field of magic, especially within the Potions area. To deprive Lord Voldemort of this particular individual would improve credence within the Order, in more ways than one.

"Hi, Hermione!" someone said, awakening her from her deep thoughts on how to approach this mission. She looked up, and moments later she was joined by a couple of sixth year Gryffindors.

"'Morning," she greeted her classmates, after swallowing a large piece of apple that threatened to choke her.

Elisabeth Rushton, a sixth year Prefect, sat down opposite Hermione, blocking her view of Snape.

"Do you have time for some study time in the common room tonight?" Elisabeth asked, with slight strain in her voice. Hermione knew Elisabeth had trouble with their Arithmancy assignments.

"Sure," she said. "Should I ask Remus too?"

Elisabeth gave her a grateful smile. "That would be great, thanks."

Hermione returned the smile. She suspected that the Prefect badge only had come Elisabeth's way because of the fact that Lily Evans had spent the school year's first couple of weeks abroad. The tall, dark haired girl seemed to struggle to keep up with her schoolwork alongside with the patrolling and other constant duties that came withthe Prefect badge. Elisabeth turned back to the other Gryffindors. Hermione didn't really know any of them very well, and didn't mind being left alone again. She once more sought out Snape at the Slytherin table. He hadn't looked up from his book. Hermione wondered what it was about.

She didn't have the slightest idea how to approach the issues with Snape. She couldn't just walk up to the Slytherin boy and befriend him. On that same matter, she didn't want to befriend him, but she knew that they needed him, and some deep part of her just wanted to make up for all the sacrifices he'd made in the other timeline.

When Snape's true loyalties finally had come out in the open right after his death, she and many others had grieved for the man who had spent his life loving a dead woman. Even Harry, who had hated the man intensely, had accepted his chosen actions at last.

Hermione took a sip of her coffee, thinking hard. The Great Hall was starting to fill up with students, but she still jumped in fright when the place beside her suddenly became occupied. She blinked, slightly confused, when she was dragged out into the present again. Turning, she saw a madly grinning James Potter.

"Top of the morning to ya-" James said.

Sirius came right after him, squeezing down on her other side, looking just as pleased as his friend.

"—and the rest of the day to yerself!" Sirius finished the saying with a flourishing hand gesture that made Hermione spill half her coffee over the table.

She glared at him, but couldn't help but feel amused by the two boy's flamboyant actions. She vanished the mess with a flick of her wand.

"There's plenty of room on the other side of the table, you know." She gestured to the empty places in front of her.

"Nah, it won't do," said James, helping himself to an extensive amount of food.

"Wouldn't be able to see very well over there, would we?" said Sirius, and Hermione was unmistakably reminded of the Weasley twins, and the way they constantly finished each other's sentences.

She huffed at this, but turned it into a greeting for her two roommates who arrived just in time to take the places that James and Sirius just had rejected.

"Wait," Hermione said then, suddenly startled. "What?" She felt a feeling of dread creeping up on her, and she suddenly knew why she had thought of Fred and George Weasley.

"See what, exactly?" she demanded to know, her head shooting between the two boys beside her.

"What's happening?" asked Jenny, pouring tea for her and Lydia.

James and Sirius just smiled at the girls. They kept their eyes on the Slytherin table at the far end of the hall, happily eating their breakfast. But when the owls started to arrive with mail for the students, Hermione could feel Sirius stiffen slightly beside her. She followed his gaze as he watched the massive flutter of birds descending on the students. Guessing what was on his mind, she turned to him, asking quietly:

"Nothing at all?"

Sirius made something like a grimace and shook his head. "I would feel better just knowing what she was planning. It's never a good sign when my mother stays quiet in the face of insolence."

"So you're expecting a reply then?" James asked from Hermione's other side, having grasped what they were whispering about.

Sirius shrugged. "Who knows? She might very well go on pretending like I never was born."

Suddenly, a surge of upset voices and screams could be heard coming from the furthest side of the Great Hall, and both boys' heads shot up at once, great expectations gleaming on their faces. Hermione sat up straight too to get a look of what the ruckus was all about. When she caught the view, she laughed aloud before she could stop herself. All of the students seated at the Slytherin table had turned a bright shade of orange. At first, confusion seemed to rule all over the hall, and among the Slytherins most of all, but it was soon understood that the unexpected colorful skin condition only had come down on their house.

"What did you do?" laughed Jenny, turning back to James and Sirius, who stood guffawing, holding each other up in between their fits of laughter.

"Don't know what you're talking about," answered a beaming James Potter.

The Great Hall was in uproar. The two Marauders observed with mirth, how the Slytherins did all in their power to try to rid themselves of their orange hues. Rubbing on the skin didn't help, nor did splashing it with water, or the shouted cries of "Tergeo!" that rang around their table.

Suddenly, a voice rang across the Great Hall: "May I have your attention please?"

The noise died down at once. Hermione and everyone else looked up at the platform with the teachers' table, and saw Albus Dumbledore standing at its front, observing the turmoil beneath him. He was wearing bright blue robes, and didn't look the slightest upset by the chaos his students was making. Instead, his eyes glittered more than ever.

"It seems we are experiencing some unexpected surprises this morning," Dumbledore stated calmly, turning to the Slytherin table.

Most of its students sat seething or muttering, and it was clear to all who witnessed it that this was something that would not go unpunished if they ever were to find out who had done it. Hermione figured that the Marauders' status in the school, as troublemaking Gryffindors, would make them the number one suspects. It didn't help that Sirius and James both stood grinning like it was Christmas morning.

Dumbledore continued addressing the Slytherins: "Just remain calm, and all this will soon be sorted out, I'm sure." He then turned towards the rest of the students. "Everyone else, please finish your breakfast and leave for your morning classes in a composed and dignified way."

The dismissal was evident, and the different houses turned back to their own tables, chatting excitingly with each other, although still unable to keep themselves from laughing and pointing.

The Headmaster sought out the eyes of a furious looking Head Boy among the brightly colored Slytherins. "Mister Malfoy, if you please?" Dumbledore motioned for Lucius to join him and Horace Slughorn, as the voluminous Head of House had already appeared next to Dumbledore to find out what was going on.

As Hermione observed a brightly orange Lucius Malfoy walking up the few steps up to the Head table, she couldn't help but smirk. The color really clashed with his silvery blond hair. She liked the feeling of the mighty Lucius being humiliated, even if it was by something as juvenile as a prank. But as suddenly as she had this thought, the Head Boy turned his gaze upon her from his position up on the platform. Their eyes locked for a couple of seconds and she could see the fury within them, before the teachers surrounding him started to examine his skin to determine its cause.

Well, Hermione thought, as she returned her attention to the triumphant Gryffindors all around her, Lucius Malfoy tried to have my neck broken. My peers turned him orange.

She felt an uncontrollable need to giggle, and drowned it by drinking from her goblet of pumpkin juice. Could her life be more surreal?

Despite the morning's events, double Potions took place as usual. Not many Slytherins showed up though, and those who did were glaring and muttering unpleasant things to the Gryffindors. Hermione noticed how James and Sirius got most of the hostility directed against them, but as no-one had stepped up to take credit for the prank, the Slytherins had to keep their suspicions for themselves; at least for the time being. Hermione worried that the Marauders had gone too far with their mischief, and had quietly badgered Sirius during breakfast about the prank, until he'd grown tired of it and muttered "It'll wear off!"

The dungeon-classroom was freezing cold, and Hermione pulled on her school robes until they covered her neck, and then tucked her hands inside the sleeves. The chair beside her remained unoccupied, and she figured that her surly Slytherin partner was one of those who had decided to either visit the hospital wing or stay in their common room for the time being. She didn't mind, really. She didn't need a partner to manage the potions they were working on anyway.

Professor Slughorn arrived a little late, and Hermione could see at once that the usually amiable man was seconds from losing his temper. She just hoped that Sirius and James, who sat a couple of seats in front of her with their heads together and silently celebrated their triumph, wouldn't make things worse for themselves.

Horace Slughorn sighed deeply and sank down in his chair. He patted on his moist forehead with a white handkerchief. "Well," he started, a disgruntled look upon his face, "a little too much excitement for one morning, I think."

This produced a round of faint traces of sniggers among the Gryffindors, and many of the Slytherins glowered, whispering threats. Hermione ignored this, but noticed that Snape too sat alone at his desk. His partner had also decided to skip the class.

"Now, now. No more fooling around now," Slughorn interjected. "All will return to normal in no time at all. Dumbledore is sure the hex will wear off by itself."

And with this, the professor fired off a smile and clasped his hands together. Apparently, his sullen mood had already worn off, and the man was back to his normal self again.

"You should all have gotten ready to enter stage two of your Strengthening Solutions by now. Pair up as usual and help each other with the final work. I'll walk around and answer any questions you might have."

Hermione suddenly saw her opportunity and decided to take it, although she could imagine that both Sirius and James would stop talking to her altogether. No turning back now… Her hand shot up in the air and she said in a loud voice: "Professor! I don't have a partner!"

Many students turned around in their seats, and Hermione could feel Remus' curious eyes upon her at once. He raised his eyebrows at her, knowing that she didn't mind working alone.

Slughorn looked at her. "Oh dear, look at that. Well, it was expected, of course, with all this trouble…" He trailed off, his eyes travelling the room until they fell upon the empty seat besides Severus Snape, just as she'd expected.

"Why don't you work alongside Mister Snape for now, Miss Granger?"

Hermione smiled inwardly and nodded. She collected her things and moved up a couple of rows to the front. As she walked past the Marauders' seats, she hardly dared to look at them. She could almost feel the mixture of disapproval and astonishment coming from both Sirius and James.

Ah well, it wasn't their place to criticize her.

Hermione sat down beside the black-haired and temporarily orange skinned youth and glanced at him. Snape hadn't even acknowledged her presence. The classroom started to fill up with talk among the students, steam from different cauldrons rose slowly, filling the room with a mist-like substance.

"So," Hermione started, but she almost jumped when he twisted around to face her. His beetle black eyes were so alike the ones she'd known the Potions Master of her past to have had. How was it that he was able to put so much nastiness into them?

"I don't need your help," Snape hissed quietly, and his eyes bored into hers, making her feel like she were eleven years old again.

Hermione swallowed but squared her jaw.

Snape continued, in a low voice: "I know very well that your boyfriends are the ones behind this little… joke." He waved his right hand lazily, seemingly not caring about it at all. He glared at her. "But you can bet there will be repercussions."

Now he smiled maliciously, a thinned lipped smile with no hint of real joy. And Hermione took a deep mental breath to steady herself, and silently wondered if she was going too far. James would kill her.

"I agree with you," she said, and started to put her potion tools to their use. "The prank was immature and unnecessary."

Hermione twisted her hear into a bun at the nape of her neck to keep it out of the way, and then turned her head to look at the scowling young man beside her.

"You're Severus, right?"

Snape said nothing, but studied her with those dark eyes of his, and then he turned to his own work in silence.