Disclaimer: JKR's characters. My situations. Thank you, Joanne, for letting me play with them.

A/N: I wrote the story a LONG time ago. It is still rough in places, though. I hope to smooth those places as I upload. Hang with me; hopefully, it will get better.

Chapter 1

Unexpected Exams

The last Friday of Harry Potter's fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry had finally arrived. Ordinary Wizarding Level examinations, given at the end of fifth year, had just ended the previous week and, unlike most students who were taking advantage of the fact that classes were over for the year, Harry had awakened early and, to avoid disturbing his dorm-mates, headed down to Gryffindor House's common room. A quick glance at the notice board alerted him to the fact that someone had placed a large flyer ordering all fifth year "muggle-born, muggle-raised, and half-blood" students to report to the potions classroom at ten that morning.

Harry hastened to awaken his dorm-mates, Seamus Finnegan and Dean Thomas, to tell them of the meeting. He spied a fourth year girl and asked that she awaken his best friend, Hermione Granger, and notify her of the required meeting. As far as Harry knew, they were the only fifth-year Gryffindors who fit the criteria of the meeting. He, himself, was considered a "half-blood" even though both his parents had been magical; however, since his mother had been muggle-born (i.e., born to completely non-magical parents), he was considered a half-blood. Seamus's mother was a witch, but his father was a muggle. Hermione and Dean were both muggle-born.

Once the four Gryffindors were awake and dressed, they hurried to the Great Hall for breakfast. No other students were seated at the tables as most students either skipped breakfast entirely on non-class days or ate just before breakfast ended at ten (on schooldays, breakfast was served from seven until eight-fifty as classes began at nine; on weekends and holidays, however, breakfast was served from eight until ten.). Of the staff, only the librarian, Madame Pince, was present.

As Harry and his friends ate, they speculated on the purpose of the morning meeting. While they were eating, students from the other houses, Slytherin, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw, slowly filed into the Great Hall and also began eating. Hermione, who could never stand anyone else knowing more than she, herself, approached the Hufflepuff table and asked the four students there, Hannah Abbott, Morag McDougal, Sally-Anne Perks, and Justin Finch-Fletchley, what they knew about the meeting. They were as clueless as the Gryffindors. She then moved to the Ravenclaw table where Terry Boot, Mandy Brocklehurst, Steven Moon, and Lisa Turpin were eating. Upon inquiring, Hermione determined they had no information about the meeting either. She finally approached the lone Slytherin, Blaise Zabini. Zabini's house was notorious for its dislike of muggle-borns, and so, no one was surprised when the handsome young man glared at Hermione and told her to get her mud-blood self away from him. Huffily, Hermione returned to the Gryffindor table.

At that moment, Professor McGonagall, deputy headmistress, transfiguration professor, and head of Gryffindor House, entered the Great Hall and briskly made her way toward the head table. Hermione jumped up and hurried to intercept her head of house. Although Harry and the others were not close enough to hear the conversation, they could tell from her expression that Hermione was not happy with what her professor was saying. The two broke apart to go to their respective tables. When Hermione returned, the Gryffindors looked at her inquiringly. Hermione shook her head and said, "She wouldn't tell me anything except that Professor Snape would explain it all."

"Snape," gasped the three boys almost in unison. Severus Snape, potions professor and head of Slytherin House, was the most disliked teacher in the whole school. Although potions was a required class for first through fifth years, very few sixth and seventh years earned the required OWL scores to qualify to continue the subject at NEWT, Nastily Exhausting Wizard Tests, level. Since an "O" for outstanding was required to continue in potions, of the Gryffindors, only Hermione expected to be in the sixth year class.

"Snape," answered Hermione resignedly.

"It couldn't be about potions, could it?" asked Seamus fearfully. "Dean and I aren't taking potions anymore."

"I don't think so," agreed Hermione. "Except for Harry and me, none of you plan on taking potions next year."

Harry saw no reason to let Hermione know that, although he needed to take potions to qualify to become an auror, he knew he had not done well enough on the exam to make it into the NEWT class.

"You don't think he's going to let us in?" asked Dean skeptically.

"No way," said Seamus. "He'd have to let Neville in, too." Even though Neville Longbottom was the worst potions student in the fifth year, Seamus and Dean weren't far ahead.

"We still have an hour before the meeting," said Harry looking at his watch. "Let's go back to the common room and rest before facing Snape."

Getting up with the three boys, Hermione suggested, "You could read ahead in some of your classes instead of just resting."

Walking with her through the door, Harry agreed, "We could, but how much could we accomplish? Just as we got started, it would be time to meet Snape."

"Besides," interjected Seamus, "until we know how we did on our OWLs, we won't know what subjects to study."

Reluctantly, Hermione had to concede the boys' points. As the four students climbed the stairs to the seventh floor where Gryffindor Tower was located, they ran into Ron Weasley, Harry and Hermione's best friend, and Neville Longbottom, the aforementioned bad potions student and the boys' fellow dorm-mate.

"Hey, where are you four going?" asked Ron sleepily.

"Back to the common room," answered Harry as he continued up the stairs.

"What about breakfast," inquired Neville.

"Already done," said Dean ungrammatically.

"Why so early," asked Ron.

"Got a meeting at ten," replied Seamus.

"What meeting?" asked Ron yawning.

"The one for muggle-borns and half-bloods," said Seamus going up the stairs.

"We'll tell you all about it afterward," said Harry.

At five minutes before ten, thirteen students representing each of Hogwarts's four houses were assembled outside the potions classroom door. After the others hesitated to enter, Blaise Zabini rapped briskly on the thick wooden door. The curtly familiar voice of their potions professor bade them to enter, which they did.

"Be seated according to the chart on the blackboard," said Professor Snape.

A quick look at the board told Harry that he would not be sitting with anyone from his house. In fact, he was surprised to see the room was divided so that no two people were side by side. Only the odd rows were occupied, and an empty seat was between each student.

Once each student was seated, Professor Snape glared at each of them in turn. "For the next two summers, you will spend a portion of each day learning necessary skills for your station in the Wizarding World," said the professor. "Some of you," he turned to face Zabini, "will be able to test out of some or all parts of these classes. Others of you," he glared at Harry, "will find yourselves in class each day from morning until night. Questions?"

Harry raised his hand and asked, "Exactly when and where are we supposed to attend these classes? I don't think my uncle and aunt will agree to take me anywhere… ."

Professor Snape glowered at him before replying, "Those of you who are not connected to the floo network will be provided with re-usable port-keys that will allow you to come and go each day. Any other questions?"

Hermione raised her hand.

"Yes, Miss Granger?" said Professor Snape resignedly.

"What exactly will these classes cover?" asked Hermione.

"That," said Professor Snape silkily, "depends on how you perform on the Wizarding Culture Examination. The exam consists of twenty-five questions and several translation exercises. With the exception of Question 2, any missed question will lead to a course subject for all those who missed it. For example, if a question were to ask, 'What are the requirements for obtaining an apparition license,' and only one person missed that question, that student would be the only one required to attend the apparition licensing class; however, if no one missed that question, the class would not be held. Any other questions?"

Again, Hermione raised her hand.

"Yes, Miss Granger," said Snape exasperatedly.

"When do we sit this exam?" she asked.

"Immediately," replied Professor Snape. He picked up several sheets of parchment and a handful of self-inking quills from the top of his desk and began passing them out. Once everyone had a copy of the exam and two quills, he said, "You have from now until 1:45 to finish this exam. Please leave any questions to which you do not know the answers blank. Do not attempt to guess the answers. Once you have finished the exam, bring it to me and report to your head of house in the Great Hall. Mr. Zabini, you will report to Professor Sinistra. At two o'clock, you will return here for further instructions. There will be no need to discuss this examination outside of this room. Oh, and Miss Granger," he said looking at Hermione, "each of you is banned from the library for today and tomorrow."

Hermione looked horrified and said, "But, professor, I wanted to read ahead in charms and transfiguration..."

"You will just have to wait until Sunday then," was their professor's impatient answer.

"But, professor," interjected Hermione anxiously, "we go home on Sunday. The library will be closed."

"Then you will just have to do without those particular books won't you," snapped Snape. "Begin!"

The students turned over the exams and began answering the questions. The first few questions were simple enough since they asked about blood and marital status as well as position in the family, but then the questions got hard. Short-essay type questions asked everything from the duties of the head of a family to how the minister for magic was selected. Included were questions about the legal and educational systems, modes of dress, child rearing, and house elves. Harry found himself skipping quite a few questions as he truly had no idea of the answers. He wondered exactly when he was supposed to have learned this information.

After answering the final question, "Explain the different types of robes and when it is appropriate to wear them," only partially, Harry rolled up his parchment, picked up the two quills he had been given, and walked up to Professor Snape who held out his hand to take the parchment. Harry gave the test to his professor and placed the quills on the desk. He then turned to exit the room. Only four students were still writing, including Hermione. From the panicked expression on his best female friend's face, Harry gathered even she, who was often teased for appearing to "know everything," was having trouble answering some of the questions. Harry quickly exited the classroom and went to the Great Hall to report to Professor McGonagall. McGonagall checked his name off her list and told him to join his classmates for lunch at their house table.