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Hermione POV

I sat anxiously in class, watching Professor Snape sweeping around the room, handing back essays. I had worked so hard on this essay- it was on moonstones, and despite having to help out Harry and Ron, I felt strong about the essay I had turned in. Jittery, I felt my fingers tapping on the tabletop. What was taking him so long to get over here? Did he lose my paper? Would I have to write it again? Snape finally plopped my essay on my desk in a bored fashion as he walked by, and I seized it immediately. Frantic, I unrolled the scroll and looked at my grade. My breath went out in a rush, staring in horror at the grade that was like a slap to the face. It wasn't full marks. It was two points away from perfect. "What's with you, Hermione?" Ron asked, taking one look at his essay, scowling, and shoving it unceremoniously into his bag. I stared at my paper, still in shock. Why? I had worked so hard!

"It's," I swallowed, angry with myself for not achieving perfection. Ridiculous frustration filled me up, making me want to cry. "It's nothing."

"Ok," Ron said, oblivious, especially because now he was in a bad mood. He slumped in his chair, his ears turning slightly red in his disgruntlement.

"What's wrong?" Harry asked in an undertone, frowning at his essay, rolling it back up and sticking it in his bag. Snape had given him crap over his Draught of Peace, which was the potion day that had sparked the moonstone essay. I assumed that Snape had flunked him on the essay, too.

"It doesn't make much sense, but I'm not happy with the grade." I muttered, and Harry looked at me with some confusion, but also with a kind of fondness that let me knew that he wasn't going to be like Ron and yell at me for being smart. Smiling, he shook his head a little, picking up his potions book and putting that in his bag too. I followed suit, my mood steadily getting blacker.

"Oh, Merlin, Sarah." A boy groaned loudly. I looked briefly over my shoulder. Sarah, the only other Gryffindor who was as smart as me was scowling and blushing at the same time, trying to snatch her essay back from one of her friends, Luke, I think his name was. He had it high above his head, squinting at it, his long arm keeping Sarah from snatching the essay back. I felt my eyes narrow. Sarah Wimkil and I had been neck in neck since forever, even though we looked like complete opposites. My hair was huge, hers was always in braids. She wore glasses, I didn't. Her work seemed effortless, and I felt like I was always stressed to do well. Sarah tried to jump for her essay, but her friend shoved her easily back down with a patronizing laugh, almost knocking off her glasses.

"Not full points again! Now I owe Luke five Galleons!" The girl on the other side of Sarah groaned, doing a mock face-palm, but I could clearly see the giant grin on her face under her hand as she snickered.

"Then you shouldn't bet on me." Sarah chided her, trying not to smile, having to get up and stretch to take her essay back. Suddenly, I was furious. We had always been equal. Why did she get full points? What did she have that I didn't? Why was her essay better than mine? Deep dislike spread through me for Sarah. It was on. I had never challenged her before, but enough was enough. There could only be one valedictorian, and I wanted it to be me. Sharp jealousy made me whip back around to face the front, snatching up a quill to distract myself, trying not to snap at her. Now that I thought about it, she had always annoyed me.

"Settle down," Snape snapped before I could say something, and Sarah's friends stopped messing around. Silently seething at myself and Sarah, I threw myself into the lesson, taking notes on everything. I couldn't miss a thing. "For Thursday…research a Confusing or Befuddlement Concoction, identify the ingredients, and their effects in the potion. Class dismissed." Snape ended class with an assignment, raising groans from everyone except me and perhaps Sarah.

"Merlin, not another assignment," Ron whined, packing up his bag. I barely resisted the urge to smack him. Ron never worked hard on his homework and it would make me go crazy some day, I knew it. He would bitch and moan about how he never did well, but did nothing to ameliorate his grades.

"This is in your textbook, Ron. It's relatively easy." I sighed, swinging my bag on my shoulder and pushing in my chair.

"Sarah, please, to leave some money to my name, please screw up this assignment." Danielle teased her friend, poking her hard in the shoulder. Sarah slapped her hand away, frowning.

"I told you not to bet on me." She said flatly, and Luke started to make 'ooohhh' noises, mocking her now slightly bad mood. "Hey, hey, you aren't so bad at Potions yourself, Luke." Sarah pressed as they walked past. Luke reached over and yanked on one of her long braids going down her back, making her yelp. Their happy chatter echoed up the staircase as we ascended out of the dungeons, a stark contrast to my mood. The day was filled with nothing but homework assignments, lightening my bad temper. I had a chance to redeem myself, to beat out Sarah in a whole new round of assignments. The boys were both miserable about it though- Harry because he had detention with Umbridge, and Ron because of the homework. Homework took up the whole night, but it didn't bother me. It was so fascinating, and the rush I got from understanding and learning made me go to bed happy.

The next day, both of the boys were in terrible moods, so I stayed silent more than I actually talked to them. Harry's temper scared me sometimes, and I could already feel it building as we walked to Defense Against the Dark Arts. "Please, Harry," I spoke for the first time in a long time before we went inside, catching his arm to make him wait. "Please try to keep your temper!" Harry shrugged, still clearly frustrated, and walked inside. The first thing I saw was Sarah, who was doing homework where she sat, her friends laughing and throwing parchment at her. I immediately bristled with dislike.

"Bullseye!" Danielle giggled, throwing a piece of parchment and getting Sarah right in the face, knocking her glasses askew.

"For Merlin's sake!" She hissed, exasperated, gathering all of the parchment balls lying around her and pelting her friends with them, trying not to laugh. "You know I have to finish this essay-"

"That's just your rough draft, and it's not due until Thursday. Seriously, Sarah, stop being so nerdy." Luke whined. The sound grated my nerves and Sarah's teeth clenched for a second.

"But writing a rough draft is a better use of my time than reading a textbook for first years." Sarah scoffed, settling back down and picking up her quill. I saw Umbridge look up, smiling sweetly at the indirect insult to her teaching. However, she only scribbled a note and went back to what she was doing. When the rest of the students came in, she started class as usual, leaving us to read. Barely ten minutes into the lesson, Umbridge coughed: hem hem. Everyone looked up, confused, except for Sarah. Her eyes were still scanning at the page in front of her.

"Miss Wimkil?" She asked sweetly, and Sarah looked up with a frown. "What do you have tucked into your textbook?"

"An essay." She responded rather flatly, and Umbridge smiled sweetly. The affect on her face made her look like a hyped up drag queen; hideous.

"There is no essay assigned for this class." Her voice dripped honey, but Sarah scowled, obviously not intimidated.

"It's an essay for Potions that I was working on before class." She explained. Umbridge tutted, smiling wider. I felt a chill go up my back at the look on Umbridge's face.

"Give me that, Miss Wimkil. In my class, you will not have out other materials other than your textbook." She extended her hand for it, and Sarah's eyes flashed.

"What if I have already read this chapter, Professor?" She challenged. "The information isn't at a fifth grade level- it's not that hard to retain. It would be a better use of my time to work on an essay that will count for something." Silence spread through the room after her words, and Umbridge's jaw clenched for a moment, before smiling again- even though it was obviously forced.

"Detention, Miss Wimkil. Do not ever question me again. Now, hand me your essay." She insisted, and Sarah stood up, stiffly walked over, handed it to her, then stalked back to her seat. "Continue on," Umbridge said sweetly to the silent and shocked classroom. I pretended to go back to reading, but I found myself feeling sorry for Sarah. All of her work was now for naught. If that had happened to me, I would have burst into tears. In an open act of defiance, Sarah didn't look at her book once for the rest of the lesson and just stared off into space, her fists clenched in her lap. At the end, Umbridge called for her to stay behind, and the rest of us gladly streamed out of there as fast as we could. As soon as kids were out of earshot, they started gossiping and laughing about the look on Umbridge's face.

Some good did come out of the lesson, though. I knew Sarah would be behind now on her homework, and it kept Harry out of trouble for at least one class period. That night in the Common Room, I helped Ron with his homework while I did mine, keeping an eye out for Harry and Sarah. I knew that I was being foolish- I mean, who sees a fellow student as a threat to their grades? Well, I did. In fact, as soon as dinner was over, I was back at it. I kept an eye out for Harry and Sarah, but it was nearly ten o' clock before either of them returned. Harry actually returned first, scowling, and threw himself into the chair across from me. "Lines, again?" I asked, and he nodded, rubbing the back of his hand through his shirt.

"That stupid toad." He mumbled, grabbing his bag to start his homework. Speaking of homework…Sarah came in and sat down at a table, rubbing the back of her hand too. Tiredly, she started over on her Potions Essay. Trying not to smile, I started to help Harry with his homework, glancing once and awhile at my bag, where my essay was safely tucked away- finished. The only sound that filled the room was sighs, quiet questions and the scratching of quills. Hours passed…

"Thanks Hermione," Harry yawned; it was after midnight, but his homework was done. I gathered my books and my ink pot into my arms after swinging my heavy bag onto my shoulder. My eyes were itching with tiredness, but I was satisfied. I was ahead on my homework, I had kept my two best friends from failing once again, and Sarah was still working.

"No problem." I said, starting for the girl's staircase with a yawn, passing Sarah's table. When I blinked, Crookshanks suddenly streaked down the stairs with a yowl and inbetween my legs, unbalancing me. Tired and disoriented, I wobbled, trying to keep my balance. Then books slid out of my arms to the left, and to my right, the ink pot. With a loud crash, it landed on Sarah's table, spraying ink everywhere, making her shriek in surprise. Ink was all over her, the table and…her essay.