Chapter Four: Student Victim/Junior Potioneer Number 3 (Gryffindor)

Hermione was pretending to revise her homework essay that was due in Transfiguration the next week while sitting in Transfiguration. Having already successfully demonstrated that she was sufficiently competent with the practical component of the day, she was content with letting Ron and Harry flounder on their own, under the pretext that she had a lot to do. In reality, Hermione was covertly watching what was going on around her.

She loved to people watch. It was amazing what she discovered about people when they were under the impression that those around them were wholly concentrated upon their work. Hermione, despite popular belief, didn't merely rely on books for her wealth of information. For instance, Hermione already knew that she'd have to keep an eye out for Lavender Brown this year due to the girl's recent penchant for making goo-goo eyes at Ron. At this thought, Hermione's quill broke under the sudden increased pressure and ink began leaking all over her parchment. Oh, yes, Lavender Brown would pay if she kept it up, Hermione thought darkly as she set to cleaning up her mess.

"All right there, Hermione?" Harry asked, looking up from his own assignment.

Hermione pasted a quick grin on her face.

"Fine, Harry. Just fine. Though I'm thinking I paid a bit much for this particular quill. Poor quality, really."

Ron still hadn't a clue that anything had happened at all, as she saw him sneaking a peek in Lavender's direction. Ron was going to wind up paying the piper too, if things continued this way.

"Ron," she whispered frantically, only to have him ignore her. "May I borrow a quill?"

There was still no reaction from the clueless redheaded wizard, as he was completely distracted by Lavender's annoying giggly voice.

"Here, Hermione, you can borrow one of mine," Harry supplied.

Hermione waved Harry away.

"Thank you for the offer, but you chew on your quills, Harry. It's unsanitary."

"I've not done that since second year, you know."

However, Hermione's attention was already back on Ron Weasley. It'd be a shame for the Weasley family to lose their youngest son during the bloom of his youth, but tragic accidents were just something Gryffindor families had to become accustomed to. The Weasley family was overdue.

"Ron!"

There was still no reaction.

"Ronald Weasley!"

He finally turned around to look at her and Hermione gave him a smile, but he looked slightly irritated.

"Oi! Do you have to be so loud, Hermione? I'm practically sitting right next to you."

The things Hermione did for love.

"May I borrow a quill? Mine broke."

"Sorry. I lent my extra quill to Lavender. Have you asked Harry if he's got one you could use?"

Hermione's stomach turned to ice. So this is what rejection felt like, eh? Well then.

"You lent your quill to her?" Hermione asked shrilly.

"Here, Hermione. Really. I haven't chewed on my quills in ages, take this one," Harry offered.

Harry and his attempts to diffuse potentially lethal situations among his friends! This saving people thing really needed to be stomped out brutally. If it weren't so annoying, it might actually be endearing, Hermione thought.

"Thank you, Harry. Well, at least chivalry isn't dead with some these days. Others- those with the emotional ranges of teaspoons, for example- apparently can't be bothered."

It wasn't Hermione's imagination that Ron muttered the word 'nutter' under his breath. This was a tried and true method to incite Hermione J. Granger to murderous intent, as Ronald Weasley well knew. As Hermione was raising her wand to hex him- in class with no thought of the consequences, no less- McGonagall called her out.

"Miss Granger!"

Hermione froze and her heart was beating too fast. Detention was in the cards, at the very least. It was also likely that she could kiss Head Girl goodbye, if Professor McGonagall was in an extra foul mood. Damn her Gryffindor tendencies!

"Professor?"

Professor McGonagall looked especially peeved, and Hermione took it as a bad sign. She watched her Head of House peer down at a parchment in her hand that had just been handed to her by a tiny first year Hufflepuff who promptly disappeared out the door. At that, Hermione let out a breath she didn't realize she'd been holding.

"I find myself in need of a dependable student for this task."

Hermione's slight spine straightening at the praise was definitely not preening. Hermione Granger didn't preen. She also didn't gloat. Her smug smile of superiority in Lavender Brown's direction was definitely not gloating. It was a smile of modest embarrassment.

McGonagall took up her quill and scratched something harshly onto the parchment before folding it and handing it to Hermione.

"I need you to take this to the Potions Lab, immediately. "

"Of course, Professor."

And Hermione's response wasn't in the obsequious tone of a sycophant. Hermione Granger was neither obsequious nor sycophantic- and her tone never emulated such a thing- even to her favorite Professor in the midst of being on the receiving end of abject favoritism, which would never happen because Professor McGonagall was fair and even-handed to all of her students and didn't play favorites.

"Take your things with you. You're needed to help supervise first year students and won't be back before the end of class."

"Yes, ma'am."

Hermione absently noted that her departure didn't give the satisfaction she craved, because her sashaying exit was entirely ignored by all pertinent parties she meant to incite to jealousy. Ron and Lavender were back to sneaking glances at each other, Harry was pretending not to notice anything was amiss, and everyone else was so used to Hermione being the teacher's pet that it hardly warranted raised brows, let alone commentary these days. It only put her in a sullen mood as she headed down to the dungeons.

If not for the slight flicker of light coming from the cracked door of the dark room, Hermione would have thought the classroom was empty. She tentatively drew her wand and pushed the door open slightly. Once her eyes adjusted she noticed that the students were watching the beginning credits of a black and white film, and Professor Snape was sitting in the front of the room, leaning back in his chair, watching the film with them. It was only when he turned around and saw her that she remembered herself and walked over to hand him the parchment.

Professor Snape snorted in apparent amusement at what was on the parchment.

"I knew she'd send you. Take a seat, Miss Granger."

Hermione was hesitant as Professor Snape pointed to a chair right next to his at the front. Apparently, he wasn't planning on leaving anytime soon. Why Professor Slughorn was nowhere to be found and Professor Snape was there in his place, Hermione wanted to know very badly, however, Professor Snape obviously thought she hesitated too long.

"I don't believe I stuttered, girl. Take. A. Seat."

She did straight away, and immediately became engrossed in the film, despite herself. It was like watching a train wreck. It had the look of one of those Muggle mental hygiene films from the 1950s- an American mental hygiene film. The words on the screen proclaimed it to be from the American Ministry of Magic- Educational Division, and it was aptly titled, "Potions Laboratory Safety and You."

Hermione chanced a glance at Professor Snape, only to see the man sporting a look of disturbingly malicious glee on his face, while avidly watching the screen, which showed two little kids at a lab station. It was narrated by a very precise male voice that sounded like an old-time American newsreader.

"Potions. A subject that gives back to the world. Young potioneers are often excited to begin the brewing process. And who can blame them? It is magical science in motion. Let's see what these two young potioneers- Johnny and Sue- are up to in the lab."

"Oh, Johnny! This is so exciting! Mr. Green said we'd make our first real potion today. I can't wait," a little girl with two braided pigtails, gushed excitedly to a little boy with a buzz cut.

"It's not my first potion, Sue. I've brewed loads of potions before. I bet mine will be the best in the class."

Sue looked skeptical, but smiled at the arrogant boy anyway.

"Well, we'd better put on our safety goggles and lab aprons before we set up our cauldrons."

"Aw! Safety goggles and lab aprons are for sissies!"

"But Mr. Green said –"

"Mr. Green's a square, Sue."

The little girl began wringing her hands.

"But Johnny! What if –"

"Relax! Don't be such a worry wart."

"Uh- Oh! This is a bad sign. See, children, little Johnny has decided that he isn't going to listen to Mr. Green's instructions."

Immediately, Johnny lit the fire under the cauldron.

"Johnny! Mr. Green said to wait to light our cauldrons!"

"Pshaw! Mr. Green just said that for the kids who haven't ever brewed before, Sue!"

Hermione watched as little Johnny continued to ignore Sue's concerns at every turn and disregarded every single lab safety rule in existence, and then came the climax, complete with ominous music, of little Johnny randomly throwing ingredients into the cauldron.

"Johnny, no! Not the Ashwinder Eggs!"

The scene ended with Sue unconscious on the floor, and Johnny leaning over her prone form, attempting to wake her up, with Mr. Green and the entire class surrounding them.

"Sue? Sue! Oh, Sue! Wake up! Oh, Mr. Green! Is Sue going to be alright?"

Mr. Green, looking very official and serious, bent down and waved his wand over Sue and then looked back up to Johnny.

"I'm afraid not, Johnny."

The scene ended with Johnny dissolving into tears.

"Oh, Sue! Please wake up! I didn't mean it. I was just horsing around. I didn't mean it, honest! Wake up!"

"It's too late for tears now, Johnny. You should have listened and followed the lab safety rules when you had the chance. Now you'll be expelled from school and lead a life of delinquency," the narrator's voice opined smugly.

It was at this moment that Hermione began hearing a sniffling noise from the first row. She looked over, only to see a tiny little Hufflepuff girl frantically attempting to wipe away her tears. The little girl looked up at Hermione and took it as a sign to get out of her seat and approach her and Professor Snape. The little girl had obviously not known Professor Snape long enough to know that what she was doing was suicidal. Hermione attempted to frantically wave the little girl back to her seat, to no avail. Unfortunately, Professor Snape noticed. The tiny little girl stopped directly in front of them.

"Professor. I w-want my mum!"

Hermione watched in fascination as Professor Snape pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket to hand to the girl, who quickly took it.

"You do?"

The little girl nodded earnestly.

"Well, that's a shame considering she is very, very far away from here right now, isn't it?"

This only caused the girl to start bawling uncontrollably. Hermione was appalled and glared at Professor Snape for making the adorable little Hufflepuff girl cry. She wanted to give the little girl a hug.

"I suggest you go back to your seat immediately, Miss Roberts, or you'll really have something to cry about when I give you a detention."

The little girl scampered back to her seat and buried her head in her arms. Hermione turned back to Professor Snape and he looked at her with a smirk.

"Professor!"

He merely raised an eyebrow at her, and Hermione immediately knew it was fruitless to pursue that topic, so she decided to give voice to her earlier curiosity.

"Where's Professor Slughorn?"

"Ah- he spent a late night listening to Brahms and Liszt. The Headmaster didn't want to cancel his classes, so you'll stay here for the next hour after the bell, when I leave to go teach my own classes."

Was he insinuating what Hermione thought he was?

"Um, does he often find himself listening to those two composers, Professor?"

Snape snorted.

"Not that it's your business, Miss Granger, but he and Trelawney got back late from a concert… at the Hogshead."

Yes, he was. She curled her lip in derision. Two teachers missing classes because they were pissed! Snape seemed to share her sentiments and obviously must have had something against Professor Slughorn to so freely share the information with one of his least favorite students. Hermione didn't dwell on it too long, because she was immediately drawn back into the film, which had moved on to a different lab safety topic.

"Vi! You're terrible!" a girl, who looked like the typical witch next door, said in a scandalized tone to another girl who embodied the concept of 50's Wizarding glamour.

Vi laughed. She was sitting at the lab station and reading Teen Witch magazine and not watching her cauldron. Even though Barbara was talking to her, she was still diligently attending to her own cauldron.

"Barbara! You've never even kissed a boy, have you?"

"I'm not that kind of girl, Vi! We should be concentrating on making good grades and finishing this potion!"

"Oh, pooh! What do we need to know about brewing potions anyway, Barbara?"

"Well, you'll be sorry you didn't learn how to brew potions when you have to keep house some day!"

"I won't! I'll have house-elves. Bill will marry me once he's a famous Quodpot player, and we can spend our time in places like Paris! He said he'd go steady with me if I go riding with him today."

"Oh, don't do it, Vi! It will ruin your reputation. My mother said that only loose witches ride on brooms with wizards."

This time the narrator was a witch who sounded just as smug as the male narrator had.

"Not only is Vi not attending to her cauldron, she's bad news. That's right, Barbara. Only loose witches ride on brooms with wizards. A proper witch, like Barbara, knows she has to make good grades in classes like Potions so she can be a homemaker some day, brewing potions for her family."

"Vi, we're at the stage where we have to be careful with our potions. The fumes can be toxic."

Vi merely laughed again and kept flipping the pages of her magazine.

"Hey, look at this! They have tips on how to make your lipstick last longer! I've got to try it."

"Oh, Vi! You're hopeless."

"And you worry too much!"

Vi immediately pulled out a tube of lipstick to put it on, not noticing as a cloud of steam from her cauldron came into contact with her face, only to gasp in horror when she looked into her compact mirror.

"My face! Oh! My face! Barbara! Help me!"

Barbara looked on in horror as the narrator chimed in.

"Oh, dear! Barbara can't help you now, Vi! She did try to warn you, but you wouldn't listen, would you? Now you'll never get married because of your permanent disfigurement. You'll never know the joys of keeping house for a husband and having children of your own now. You'll only live alone with lots of cats."

There was definitely more crying now, Hermione could hear it. This film was ridiculous and misogynistic. She couldn't take it anymore.

"Professor Snape? Don't you think this film is a little- outdated?"

"Miss Granger, are you telling me you think lab safety to be an outdated concept?"

"Of course not, Professor, but—"

"Then I fail to see the problem. Besides, I would have thought you'd find Barbara to be a kindred spirit. She doesn't intend to rely on house-elves and she wants to settle down and be a homemaker."

"I have never intended to be a homemaker, Professor! When have I ever said such a thing?"

"Aren't you and that Weasley boy an item? He will, of course, expect you to follow in Mrs. Weasley's footsteps, I'd imagine."

Hermione was livid and whispered viciously through clenched teeth.

"Now see here, Professor, that isn't any of your business."

"You're right, Miss Granger. I have noticed that he and the Brown girl are a little closer these days. My apologies."

He didn't sound sincere at all.

"When I leave, I expect you to make sure they continue watching the rest of the film. Don't let their tears fool you. A month of school and not one mention of lab safety from Slughorn at all! It would only have been a matter of time before one of these little dunderheads blew up the lab."

"But that's—"

"Unacceptable."

Hermione sighed. She didn't disagree. Slughorn hadn't mentioned lab safety at all. And now that she knew he was a drunkard, it was even worse.

"But they'll be afraid to even touch a cauldron after this, Professor."

"That's not my problem anymore. Nor is it yours, Miss Granger. Unless—" Snape trailed off. "But no, it would take up too much of your free period every Wednesday. I know you like your study time," he said quietly to himself.

"What? What is it, Professor?" Hermione asked him eagerly.

"Hmm? Oh, I was just thinking to myself, Miss Granger."

"But you had an idea. What was it, sir?"

"I was thinking that a student who made an O on their Potions O.W.L. could help as a lab assistant. They could help brew potions for the hospital wing, keep students from blowing up the lab, and it would look good on a resume. Especially if they were to also- no- that's asking too much."

Professor Snape sighed. Hermione always knew he wasn't as heartless as he seemed. Harry and Ron would never believe it.

"Maybe I'll ask a Ravenclaw instead."

"What? No! Professor- my Wednesday schedule isn't that bad. I can help out with the first year Potions classes for one day a week. I made an O on my Potions O.W.L.."

"Yes, but you would also have to become a junior member of The Most Extraordinary Society of Potioneers."

Hermione's enthusiasm waned considerably at that news. Joining organizations always put constraints on one's time.

"May I ask why, sir? I mean, I'd love to help out, but that does sound like an extra commitment on my time."

Professor Snape sighed again.

"I thought as much. They are a rather demanding organization. Assuming they'd even let you in. They only take the best."

"Just what are you implying, Professor?"

"I'm implying that you may not have what it takes, anyway, Miss Granger."

"Give me an application form, sir."

"As you wish."

Professor Snape promptly shoved an application that he conveniently had on his person, into Hermione's hands. That was disconcertingly fast. However, Hermione had to prove she could do this. How dare anyone imply she couldn't? She signed it straight away, with a very nice quill Professor Snape also handed her.

Hermione didn't dwell on the evil smirk she saw Professor Snape give her out of the corner of her eye. She also didn't dwell on the distinctly evil way he said the word, "Excellent," as he snatched the signed application and quill out of her hands and swept out the door. She was already drawn back into the film.

Poor Wally was cleaning out the Potions cupboard and was about to make the unwise decision of using older ingredients that no longer had labels on them.

"Oh, this is the worst! Gee whiz! I can't tell if this is the right one or not! Well, it looks all right. I think it will be okay."

Wally took the sealed bottle and slowly pulled out the stopper- only to blow up the entire lab. Survival wasn't an option.

"If only Wally had remembered that one is only to use properly labeled and stored ingredients, he might have survived. The shelf life of potions ingredients is notoriously short, even with Preservation Charms. Always enter the Potions storage area with caution."

Hermione began to panic, as half of the class was now crying. What had she got herself into?