Author's Note: Okay, so I'm trying something a bit different with this fic. I really wanted to write it in first person, but rather than leaping between Hermione and Severus POV, I've decided to write two versions of it. The second is titled "When A Phoenix Cries: Hermione" and will be updating in parallel to this one. The primary plot will follow Hermione but if you fancy getting a peek into Severus' head, you're in the right place. The chapter numbers won't line up, but the chapter titles will. Please note that, due to this arrangement, some chapters may run significantly long or short as the content dictates. If I've not explained this adequately, feel free to ask any questions in your review or PM me and I'll try to clear it up.
You may wish to read the first three chapters of Hermione's story first, as they provide most of the setup for this tale before our lead characters meet for the first time in 1977.
Disclaimer: I will say this only once, suffice it to say that it applies to all subsequent chapters. I am not J. K. Rowling and do not own Harry Potter, the universe, most of the backstory, or the canon characters. The way in which I manipulate them, is, however, mine.
Back to Hogwarts
I didn't bother trying to find my own compartment when I boarded the train. I headed straight for the front, where I knew that Slughorn would be. The potions professor had recruited me into the "Slug Club" halfway through my first year when he'd noticed my proficiency in his class and my high grades in my other classes.
I'd been honored at first, I remembered bitterly. It had made me feel special to be so recognized by the professor of my favorite class. I'd eventually come to see the club as just another opportunity for me to be shunned and mocked by Lucius and the other purebloods. Despite my being part of his little club, Slughorn mostly ignored me too unless something relevant to potions came up. I couldn't even properly appreciate his praise for my work in class anymore. After hearing him sucking up to the likes of Lucius Malfoy for six years, I understood that his loyalties lay firmly with whomever might become to most important adult.
I was the first one to enter Slughorn's chamber and he laughed, clapped me on the back, and said some meaningless stuff that I largely ignored. I'd learned his voice well enough to recognize the way the pitch changed when he asked a question, so I was mostly safe to ignore him without missing a question.
It was a relief when other students began to arrive, distracting the annoying professor. However much I respected the man's skill with potions, that was the only thing I respected about him. Lucius arrived, followed closely be Regulus, both of them strutting around like they mattered just because of their fathers' names though not one of them was more than average in any way that did matter.
I stared out the window and let my mind drift away while I waited for the "meeting" to end. I couldn't help but notice though, when Lily entered. It had been a year and a half since we'd even spoken when it could be avoided. It seemed wrong that she still had such a hold over me, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I had destroyed our friendship more surely than her "romance" with Potter ever could have. Every time I was near her, I found myself again seeing the horrified look on her face when I'd called her that deplorable slur.
I didn't look at her, but my senses were so attuned to her every movement that I could tell she'd taken the seat furthest away from me on the opposite bench. I was grateful for that even though my heart clenched at her cold distance.
"Hermione!" I heard Slughorn bellow shortly after the compartment door had opened and closed. "Glad you could make it, my dear!"
The unfamiliar name caught my attention. Apparently, Slughorn had a new recruit. I turned my head just a little to catch a glimpse of her through my hair without appearing interested enough that anyone was likely to involve me in the conversation. I froze as my eyes settled on one of the prettiest girls I had ever seen. She had to be a sixth or seventh year by the look of her. Her hair was the most gorgeous mass of honeyed ringlets, her eyes a darker brown, but still with a warm, inviting tone. Her full lips were currently twisted up in a smile that did not reach her eyes as she glanced around the compartment.
I was certain that I had never seen her before. Even if she were a Hufflepuff I could not have missed this stunning creature.
"It's good to see you again, Hermione. There's a spot open by me," Lucius voice cut through my thoughts like a knife and I quickly shut down my traitorous mind, turning my gaze back out the window. Girls like this Hermione liked boys like Lucius. No girls liked me. If I'd had any doubts about that, Lily had cleared them up for me.
Still, I couldn't help but notice that the girl sat down next to me rather than taking Lucius' offer.
"You're a terrible tease, Miss Wilkins," Lucius said with an audible smirk and I realized that that must be her reason. She was playing hard to get.
"I see that you two have met!" Slughorn declared with pleasure in his tone, which I found myself unable to block out as I usually did.
"She bumped into me in Diagon Alley last week," Lucius supplied haughtily. "Flirting ensued. Naturally."
I was starting to feel sick as I recalled all the reasons that I loathed Lucius Malfoy.
"Lucius evidently can't miss a chance to be rejected," Hermione came back with an edge to her tone that surprised me. She must really be serious about teasing the blond man. She was probably a pureblood, I reasoned. That would explain the easy exchange between her and Lucius as well as why Slughorn had recruited her even though she must have just transferred into Hogwarts this year.
Slughorn chuckled merrily, "Ah, the fire of young love!" he declared.
I rolled my eyes, knowing that no one could see.
The conversation turned away from the new addition as more students arrived and I gratefully allowed my mind to drift away again.
I was crunched into the corner as much as I could manage, trying hard to be invisible to those sharing the compartment with me, but I was powerless to avoid noticing the way that Hermione slid closer to me as more students sat down on the bench at her other side. Finally, she slid over until our hips were pressed together and I tensed at the contact, both heartily welcomed and entirely dreaded. I really didn't need to be enjoying her closeness so much when I was certain I would soon enough watch Lucius woo her into his slimy clutches. I wished I hadn't noticed how nice her hair smelled.
Slughorn began with introductions once everyone had arrived, naming each of us in turn and explaining what it was that qualified us for his "elite" club. I didn't pay much attention until he came to the witch all but sitting on me.
"And, of course, this year's unexpected jewel," Slughorn said with such excitement in his voice that I was sure he had high hopes for her future. "Miss Hermione Wilkins is new to Hogwarts this year, and I've honestly never seen a more impressive student. She got twelve outstanding OWLs!"
That threw me. He hadn't immediately mentioned her family, which meant that it was unlikely that it was greatly impressive. But… Twelve outstanding OWLs? How was that even possible? I'd barely slept in my fifth year to earn my eight OWLs.
"I took them a year late," I heard her hastily explain, as though she were embarrassed.
Well, taking them a year late might explain how it was possible, but it was still impressive that she was so well versed in so many subjects. It also meant, I noted idly, that she must be a seventh year. So I'd probably have to endure her enticing presence in at least several of my classes all year. I really wished that I could have convinced myself that I wasn't pleased by that.
Slughorn was laughing heartily. "You be proud of that, my girl! I don't think Slytherin's ever seen a student with twelve outstanding OWLs before!"
And she was a Slytherin… Great. Now I was even more attracted to her. Why couldn't she have been a silly Hufflepuff or a detached Ravenclaw? Considering her OWLs, the latter would have made sense.
"And of course, last but not least," Slughorn concluded and I cringed as I knew what was coming. Hollow praise and forced pride.
For some reason, she started slightly when he said my name. I could only guess that maybe Reg was getting too friendly on the other side of her. The fact that she didn't move away from me suggested that her start hadn't been aversion to my identity, though I wasn't sure how she'd know my name anyway.
"The brightest potioneer to ever come through my class!" Slughorn was declaring grandly.
Resigned, I turned my face enough that my hair wasn't entirely obscuring it from the room. I glanced at each of the faces around me before my eyes settled on the stunning witch at my side. After staring for a moment, I forced myself to look at Slughorn rather than her even though I found myself consumed by the absurd desire to fall into her eyes and stay there. There had been something in those eyes to which I couldn't quite put a name… Something that none of the other pretty Slytherin girls shared. Perhaps it was simply intelligence. Narcissa hadn't even managed five outstanding OWLs.
I forced my mind back on task harshly. I couldn't let myself hope for things that I knew would never be. Lily had taught me that.
"Severus, my boy," Slughorn grinned, his chins jiggling with his pleasure. "You and Miss Wilkins should get along splendidly. She has quite an eye for potions as well."
I glanced at her again. More OWLs than me and skill at potions as well. I wondered how much longer I'd be welcome in Slughorn's club now that he seemed to have found a more impressive version of myself – certainly a much more attractive one.
Oh well, I decided. It would be a blessing if he stopped inviting me. Then I wouldn't have to sit through these interminable lessons in humility when I could be tucked away in a quiet corner reading.
It seemed a relative eternity before Slughorn broke up the enchanting little party. Hermione was the first one out the door even though she was far from the closest to it. As soon as it was clear that we were free to go, she practically leapt out of her seat, crossed the room in two long strides, and disappeared down the corridor.
I looked after her curiously, staying where I was so that Lily could leave ahead of me and hopefully be safely tucked away in a compartment before I went to find my own. When only Slytherins remained – the majority of the Slug Club – Slughorn gave us the password to the common room and I slipped away while he chatted with Lucius.
I found a compartment with a couple of first years in it and let myself in. I sat down on one bench and only had to glare at them for about a minute before they left. I smiled grimly to myself. Scaring children was one of my skills. There was something to be proud of.
It was only a minute later when the compartment door opened again and I groaned inwardly when James Potter strutted in, sneering at me. "Snivellus," he said disdainfully. "I saw some first years running for their lives and I thought I'd find you here. Tell me, do you think it's your face that frightens them, or your stench?" he goaded.
I stared at him, schooling my face to portray my anger but nothing else. He could never know how rotten he could make me feel.
"Come on, Snivellus!" Potter pressed, trying to get a rise out of me. "Do you have something to say about it?"
I bloody well would have had something to say about it if his ridiculous friends hadn't been loitering right outside. I didn't doubt that I could take any one of them individually, but I had no illusions about taking on all four. Not in a fair fight.
I tried not to listen as he prattled on, calling me that revolting nickname, but I seemed incapable of blocking out his self-important tone.
I hope you enjoyed seeing what Severus thinks of all this. If you haven't already, don't forget to check out "When A Phoenix Cries: Hermione". As always, please review. You'll make my day!