AN: So I'm a little late to the Harry Potter AU party, but this idea just wouldn't leave me alone. If you enjoy (or not) I'd appreciate hearing about it in a review.
AN2: Just so we're clear, this is not a romance fic, and definitely not a Hermione/Snape fic. They are the two characters highlighted above because they get the most screen time.
Hermione approached the Sorting Hat with some trepidation as Gregory Goyle lumbered off to join his friends at the Slytherin table. She was feeling the pressure of this moment more acutely than her yearmates, most of whom seemed happy not to have to do anything more strenuous than try on a hat before being placed in a house. Hermione had put in hours of extra reading and practice so that she could earn the right to the house of her choice, and losing control of that choice to an inanimate object was frustrating.
Hermione's Hogwarts acceptance letter had opened up a whole new world. Not just a chance to learn magic, it also represented a chance to start over. To meet a group of people that didn't know the eager beaver, Granger the bookworm, teacher's pet...
She shook away her thoughts as she reached the stool and dropped the hat on her head without hesitation. Showing nervousness wouldn't be very Gryffindor-ish, after all, and she didn't want to do anything to hurt her chances of being sorted into that house. A disproportionate number of famous wizards had come out of Gryffindor, and everything she had read suggested that it was the house of the cool kids-popular, well-liked, able to do what they wanted and face a slap on the wrist at worst as a consequence.
"Well, well, what have we here," the hat's voice suddenly sounded in the back of her mind, and Hermione had to suppress the urge to bolt upright. She sat quietly and focused on thinking brave thoughts.
"That's not going to do anything, you know," the hat said, sounding amused. "You can't cover over a lifetime of work with a few stray thoughts."
Hermione felt her heart plummet at the thought of being sorted into Ravenclaw-the destination her parents had picked out as soon as she had finished describing the house system to them-the last thing she needed was to be sorted into a whole house of nerds. She desperately cast about for an argument against the inevitable.
"Dumbledore!" She thought, desperately. "Dumbledore must like books, and he was no Ravenclaw."
"You fancy yourself the next Dumbledore?" The hat asked. Hermione thought she detected a faint note of mockery.
"Well, not exactly," Hermione couldn't imagine ever matching the famous Headmaster, although she did fancy taking a run at his record of seven years of top marks. "I just hope that I can learn to be brave and noble like Dumbledore-"
"You're about a hundred years too young to pull the wool over my eyes, child," the hat interrupted, although it didn't sound upset. "But that kind of effort and ambition should see you in good stead in SLYTHERIN!"
When she realized the last word had been spoken out loud, Hermione reached up to remove the hat and stood. She set it back down on the stool-absently noting that her hands were shaking-and then turned to size up her new housemates.
Her first thought was that they looked surprisingly normal. Slytherin was famed for prizing ambition and cunning, and more recently had gained notoriety as the house that produced more Death Eaters than all of the others combined. For all of that, the students in front of her could have been any other group of eleven year olds, except for the matching green and silver ties.
Hermione took a seat near the other first years and settled down to watch the rest of the sorting process. A "Greengrass, Daphne" followed Hermione to Slytherin, while "MacMillain, Ernie" went to Hufflepuff. The Sorting Hat settled in to a steady rhythm, and its periodic announcements were the only sound in the Great Hall... at least until Harry Potter was called down to be sorted.
Whispers broke out as soon as his name was called, and the conversations only intensified when the Hat seemed to linger on his Sorting. Hermione realized she was clenching her fists hard enough to feel painful, and chided herself as she relaxed her hands. Harry had been friendly enough on the train, but he hadn't struck her as anything particularly special. There was no reason to get so invested in his house placement.
She still felt a pang of disappointment when the hat announcement of "GRYFFINDOR!" sent the red and gold decorated table into an uproar. Across the table a blonde boy-"Malfoy, Draco," if memory served-snorted derisively.
"I knew that prat was Gryffindor through and through," Malfoy declared.
"Harry's not that bad," Hermione replied, "he seemed perfectly nice when I spoke to him on the train."
"You actually met the boy-who-lived?" The girl next to her-Tracy Davis-asked, eyes wide.
Hermione related the circumstances of her brief encounter with Harry and Ron, pleasantly surprised by the rapt attention she was receiving from her housemates. She had read about Harry's fame in the wizarding world, but she hadn't really had the time to internalize it the same way that somebody brought up on stories of the boy-who-lived would have. They were acting like she had met the Queen.
Eventually Hermione's story wound down and conversation turned to other topics. Most of the discussion-only briefly interrupted by Dumbledore's "speech" at the end of the sorting and the appearance of their dinner-centered around everybody's hopes and expectations for the coming year. Inevitably the discussion came around to Quidditch and Draco, as he had been doing throughout the night, decided to use the topic as an opportunity to flaunt his family's wealth.
"First years aren't even allowed to have their own brooms." Hermione said, interrupting Draco's loving description of the horrendously expensive broom his father had bought for his last birthday.
"I know that," Draco said, glaring at her. "But at least I know what it's like to fly on quality equipment. Have you ever even taken an old Shooting Star out for a spin?"
"No. I've never flown at all," Hermione admitted, feeling herself blush. "But it's not like I could, I only found out about all this a few weeks ago."
The little knot of Slytherin first years froze, forming an island of silence in the sea of noise throughout the Great Hall. Draco was staring at her in shock while Tracy, who had been sitting companionably close to Hermione, began to edge away.
"You grew up... muggle?" Draco asked.
"Yes," Hermione snapped, upset by the reaction to the news, "my parents are dentists. Muggles."
A ripple of shock ran through her classmates, as they actually recoiled away from her before turning to discuss the situation amongst themselves. Hermione couldn't hear everything they were saying, but she got the gist of it.
"A muggleborn in Slytherin? This should be amusing," Blaise Zabini, the last boy to be sorted, commented with a sardonic grin.
"Ugh, the sorting hat has gone as crazy as the Headmaster." Pansy Parkinson said, her face scrunched up as if she had just smelled something foul.
"My father says Dumbledore gets worse and worse every year, but this just tears it!" Draco said, just before Hermione brought her hand down on the table with a sharp crack, temporarily silencing the other Slytherins.
"Don't talk about me like I'm not here!" Hermione said, glaring around the table. "I belong here just as much as the rest of you, you'll see."
None of her classmates said anything in response, shaking their heads before returning to their meals. As the momentary flash of anger that had prompted her outburst faded away, Hermione felt as if an icy hand was wrapped around her insides. These people were supposed to be her family for the next seven years?
The next morning a pair of prefects gathered the first year Slytherins together in the common room. None of the younger students seemed inclined to talk, which suited Hermione just fine. After the revelation of her muggle heritage, she had yet to hear a friendly word from any of her house mates.
Hermione had never imagined that entering a whole new magical world also entailed confronting a whole new kind of prejudice. It still seemed sort of surreal to her-as if she woke up one morning in a world that virulently discriminated against people who part their hair on the left. It hurt, of course, to have any group of people looking down on her, but Hermione's primary reaction was bafflement.
She could understand wizards looking down on muggles. Not that she condoned that kind of thinking, but the simple fact was that wizards could do magic and muggles can't. It would be easy enough to build a theory of racial superiority on top of something like that, but where was the sense in extending it to muggleborn wizards? Hermione could perform magic at least as well as anybody else her age. Or at least she thought she could-Hermione made a mental note to go over her charms book again as soon as she had a free moment.
"All right, firsties, listen up," Arnold Parkinson called out. Hermione immediately focused on the fifth year prefect, who was glaring at the first year Slytherins with an intense look on his face.
"The Sorting Hat put you in Slytherin, so I'm sure you'll all be fine," Jennifer Nott said. The other fifth year prefect smiled at them, but there was a little bit of an edge to her expression.
"The most important thing to understand is that Slytherin is a house of winners," Arnold said. "Losers always whine about playing fair and trying their best. Winners go home with the House Cup. Whatever it takes."
"The second thing to remember," Arnold continued, "is that in pursuit of your goals, everything is permitted... as long as you don't get caught."
"And let's be honest," Jennifer said, smoothly cutting in. "You firsties don't have any idea how to get away with anything, and you're not really in a position to help Slytherin out a whole lot. So you guys should really focus on not screwing things up for the rest of us."
"Right," Arnold said, nodding. "And on that note, the third thing to remember is this: you're not going to like everybody here, and that's fine. But any problem you have with another Slytherin, stays in Slytherin. None of the other houses like us much, and the last thing we need is to show off a weakness to everybody else."
Hermione found the whole talk a little bit disconcerting, but also oddly reassuring. Keep her head down, follow the rules, and earn points for Slytherin. She could do that.
She tried to keep that thought foremost in her mind as the prefects led them all to breakfast together, and her house mates broke into conversation that conspicuously excluded her. And when they sat down for breakfast, and nobody sat down beside her or addressed her throughout the meal. She could do this.
Transfiguration class was a relief. Hermione had always preferred the structured environment of the classroom to the labyrinth of social interactions with her peers, a preference that was only enhanced when all of her "peers" seemed determined to ignore her. Class stared off with a bang, as Professor McGonagall demonstrated two spectacular pieces of transfiguration-transforming herself into her cat, and her desk into an enormous pig-before setting the class to the relatively modest task of transforming matchsticks into needles.
Hermione was glad that the matchstick proved as easy to transform as the one she had used at home. She gratefully accepted two points for Slytherin-the first time anybody had said her name since dinner last night-and spent the rest of the class period working on creating steadily more intricate needles. From time to time she would glance over at Pansy Parkinson. The Slytherin queen bee had taken the seat next to her, and seemed to believe the key to proper transfiguration lay in vigorous wand movements. She nearly knocked her matchstick off the table a couple of times but was no closer to transforming it at the end of class than she had been at the start.
Hermione left the room feeling pretty pleased with herself. She was keeping up with her peers in terms of magical ability, and she even earned a couple of points for her house. Unfortunately the only acknowledgement she received for her success came in the form of an "accidental" bump from Pansy once the group of Slytherins was out in the hallway that sent Hermione stumbling and allowed Pansy to take what apparently was the place of honor walking alongside Draco.
Hermione glared at her classmates and wrestled her temper back under control. It was going to take a while, but she would prove she belonged in Slytherin, somehow.
Hermione woke on Friday morning feeling a definite sense of anticipation. Friday would be the day of their first Potions class, their first chance to experience a class taught by their head of house. Professor Snape was a distant and intimidating figure to the Slytherin first years, and Hermione hoped that impressing him in class would help pave the way to her acceptance within Slytherin.
Potions class was also their first class that was shared with Gryffindor. Hermione was looking forward to seeing how Neville Longbottom was doing. He had seemed so lost on the train, she was worried that he would be totally overwhelmed at Hogwarts. It would also be nice to have a conversation with somebody who seemed to look up to her after enduring a week of general disdain.
Hermione's good mood lasted right up until she put on her shoes and felt a sharp pain in her big toe. Yelping in surprise, she yanked off her shoe and carefully felt around her shoe until she removed a needle that had been stowed away inside.
"You really must be a transfiguration prodigy, putting a needle in your shoe like that." Pansy said, before turning to lead a giggling group of Slytherin girls down to breakfast.
Hermione glared impotently at Pansy's departing back, then turned her attention to her toe. Discovering that her sock was now stained with blood, she bandaged her toe and changed socks before she headed off down the hallway on her own, stewing all the while.
When she reached the Great Hall, Hermione stalked over to where Pansy was sitting, poking an accusing finger in her face and interrupting her breakfast.
"I may come from a muggle household," Hermione hissed, "but when it comes to transfiguration you may as well be a muggle."
Hermione spun on her heel and made her way back down the table to an open seat. Before she had taken three steps she felt the impact of a piece of food on her back. Turning around, she was dimly aware of a piece of toast falling off of her robe to hit the floor before her vision narrowed down to the smirking visage of Pansy Parkinson. Hermione took a step forward, but before she could take her revenge she was bustled out of the Great Hall by the irresistible force of Jennifer Nott. She caught a glimpse of Arnold Parkinson taking hold of his sister before the door swung closed and cut off her view.
"What part of 'problems in Slytherin stay in Slytherin' was so hard to understand?" Jennifer asked, her arms crossed over her chest as she glared down at Hermione.
"She's the one who started throwing food!" Hermione protested.
"And she's catching hell for it from her brother," Jamie replied, "but there's a time and a place to pick fights-and the Great Hall is never the right place. Could you imagine if Professor Snape had walked in on that little scene?"
Hermione paled as she thought of the possibility of Professor Snape's first impression of her coming in the middle of the food fight. The anger that had been driving her was snuffed out by the sudden flash of fear, and Hermione looked down at the ground. The bullying was starting to escalate now, and it was hard to imagine things getting better any time soon.
Jennifer sensed the change in Hermione's mood and sighed. She pulled out her wand and knelt down to meet Hermione's eyes.
"Hey, nobody's perfect. That would be boring anyways," Jennifer said. "As long as you guys stay in line from now on, things'll be fine. Let me take care of this for you."
With that, Jennifer gave her wand a brief flourish before tapping Hermione's robe. The jam from Pansy's toast seemed to leap off of her robes, forming a small pile on the floor. Hermione, who hadn't even noticed the stain, stared wide-eyed at the practical bit of magic.
"How did you do that?" Hermione asked.
"Oh, that's the Impervius charm," Jennifer replied. "You guys will learn that soon enough."
"Isn't that for waterproofing?" Hermione asked. "How can you use it for cleaning like that?"
Jennifer gave Hermione a surprised look as she stood. She took a moment to brush out her robes before replying.
"It's good to know at least one of you firsties is hitting the books. The trick is-well, magic is more than just wand-waving and incantations, you know?" Jennifer said. "Your intent guides the spell. When you get enough practice at it you can even bend a spell to do something a little different. So the impervius charm usually makes your clothes repel foreign objects, but if you focus right when you cast it it will also repel dirt that's already there."
Hermione could feel her eyes widening as she gazed up at the older girl. That kind of casual sophistication was exactly what she wanted-she was brought out of her musing when Jennifer chuckled and ruffled Hermione's hair.
"Don't worry, you've got plenty of time to learn stuff like that," Jennifer said. "For now, you need to make sure you get to your potions class on time."
Hermione yelped and ran off to the dungeons, breakfast forgotten in light of her fear of angering Professor Snape. She was fortunate enough to slide into class and take a seat next to Millicent Bulstrode just before the last of the Gryffindors trickled into the classroom.
No sooner had the last students taken their seats than the door swept open with a clatter, and Severus Snape swept into the room. He certainly had more of a flair for the dramatic than their other professors, and Hermione found herself on the edge of her seat with a mixture of fear and anticipation as he waxed rhapsodic about the art of potion making.
Her fear was only intensified when Snape started peppering Harry Potter with questions while taking roll, only to be allayed as she realized she knew the answers. She raised her hand as soon as Harry failed to answer the first question, but Snape didn't call on her until he had finished his interrogation of Harry.
"Yes, Miss Granger?" Snape asked. He sounded a little irritated, but she wasn't go to let something like that deter her from answering.
"Aconite and monkshood are the same plant, sir," Hermione said. "A bezoar is a stone taken from the stomach of a goat, and asphodel and wormwood combine to make the Draught of Living Death."
"Thank you, Miss Granger, I know." Snape's dismissive tone was not what Hermione expected after she gave the right answer, and he declined to award Slytherin any points before turning to the board and giving the instructions for the Boil Cure potion.
Hermione suppressed her disappointment and got to work. Fortunately, for all that Millicent avoided her in between classes, she seemed to realize that letting Hermione run the show in the classroom was just common sense. There was a bit of a dodgy moment when Neville's cauldron melted, almost causing Hermione to drop the nettles into their potion a little early, but she recovered and they were ultimately rewarded with the pink smoke that was an indicator of a perfectly brewed Boil Cure.
Snape observed their potion briefly before moving on without comment. He awarded them no points. Snape in fact didn't award any points to anybody, although he did take points away for some of the more pathetic efforts. When he dismissed the class Hermione realized she wouldn't get a chance to talk to Neville after all-he had gone to the Hospital Wing after his cauldron was destroyed-and she made a spur of the moment decision to try talking to Harry.
She and Harry hadn't exactly become friends on the Hogwarts Express, but he had at least been friendly, which was more than she could say for her housemates. She had some vague idea of building on that connection as she approached Harry, but as soon as he saw her he turned away. Hermione was surprised by his reaction, and was even more surprised when Ron fixed her with a vicious glare.
"Come to gloat about class?" Ron asked. "I bet Snape fed you the answers ahead of time, you cheating snake."
"He gave everyone the answers Weasley, when he told us what book to buy," Draco Malfoy cut in, then paused as if a thought had just occurred to him. "You... were able to afford your books, right?"
Hermione stared at the scene in front of her. She had been shocked by Ron's hostile attitude, and even more surprised to have Draco leap to her defense. It was almost like she had a friend... or, she realized with a sinking feeling, as if Draco was showing his Slytherin solidarity. Hermione turned her back on the budding argument and headed back to the common room, alone.
The next week settled into a routine. Hermione spent as much of her free time as possible in the library, continued to perform at the top of her classes, and continued to be shunned by her fellow Slytherins. It was a little lonely, but Hermione reminded herself that she had gotten through eleven years with books as her only friends, she could surely manage another now that she had books and magic.
Her house mates didn't ignore her all the time, of course, as from time to time they would rouse themselves to pick on her. Chastened by the lecture she had received from her brother, Pansy didn't risk any further pranks that rose to the level of physical injury, but it was not at all uncommon for Hermione to find that her school supplies had been hidden throughout the dorm.
Hermione was the last student to arrive for potions on Friday-having had to spend an inordinate amount of time locating her potions textbook-when she found that the only open seat was adjacent to Neville Longbottom. Looking around the classroom and saw that all of the students were paired up with their housemates except for Pansy, who was sharing a table with Lavender Brown. Pansy took a break from chatting with Lavender to smirk triumphantly at Hermione. Hermione took a deep breath and gathered herself before walking over to sit next to Neville.
"Hello, Hermio-oof!" Neville's greeting was cut off as Hermione grabbed him by the front of the robes and yanked him forward until his eyes were only a foot away from her intense glare.
"Here's how this is going to work," Hermione said. "You will prepare the ingredients, and then place them on the table well away from the cauldron."
"But I-" Neville said, only to be silenced by another yank on his robes.
"You will not put anything in the cauldron. You will not even bring your hands near the cauldron." Hermione continued. "You will stay out of my way. You will not ruin our potion. Do you understand?"
"Yes." Neville said, a little choked off by Hermione's grip on his robes. She released him and he sat back gratefully, still looking a little shell-shocked.
Hermione actually felt a lot better after her outburst. She felt a little bad about taking all of her anger out on Neville, but there was no denying the fact that she had been driving herself crazy keeping it all bottled up inside.
Fortunately, Neville was able to follow her directions and avoid spoiling their potion. It meant that Hermione had to do all the work for the two of them, but it was hardly the first time she had to do all of the work for a group project. By the end of the class they had a cauldron full of textbook-perfect burn salve. Hermione gave a little huff of satisfaction and looked up to see Professor Snape eyeing her with an inscrutable expression on his face.
"I couldn't help but notice that your division of labor was rather uneven, Miss Granger," Snape said.
"We split things up so that, uh," Hermione said, "we were each able to play to our strengths."
"Perhaps," Snape said, taking a sample of their potion for grading. "But next week I expect to see a more even allocation of tasks when you two work together."
Hermione stared at the back of his head as he stalked back to the front of the classroom. She had to work with Neville again. She even had to let him touch the cauldron. This was bad.
"Neville!" Hermione snapped. He turned away from the window he had been staring out of for the past half hour to look at her. "We should meet tomorrow to work on your potions making."
"Um, I don't know..." Neville trailed off when Hermione leaned forward, her eyes glinting dangerously.
"Let me rephrase: we will be meeting tomorrow to work on your potions making." Hermione said.
"Ok," Neville squeaked, before turning to flee the classroom.
Hermione sighed. Keeping Neville from ruining her potions grade was going to be a full time job in itself. On the other hand, their little tutoring session tomorrow was going to be the closest thing to hanging out a friend that she had experienced since entering Hogwarts.
Hermione was pleasantly surprised when Neville met her in the Great Hall after breakfast the next day. She was less pleasantly surprised when he was followed by Ron Weasley and Harry Potter. She raised an eyebrow at Neville as he drew near.
"They're, um, with me." Neville said, blushing slightly.
"We're not letting Neville wander off alone with a Slytherin!" Ron said, positioning himself protectively between Hermione and Neville. "You might render him down for potions ingredients or something."
"Really?" Hermione asked, then shrugged. "Well, from what I remember, you two could use a little remedial potions instruction yourselves, so you may as well tag along."
Hermione turned before Ron could formulate a response and led the little group to their study area, a room she had learned about from a Slytherin prefect. Located on the second floor, the room used to be used for Potions classes before Snape started teaching them. It had work areas, running water to help clean out cauldrons, and the storage closet still had a stockpile of commonly used ingredients preserved under stasis charms.
Hermione gestured at the workstation she had set up, an empty cauldron over an unlit brazier. Next to the cauldron were the usual array of ingredient preparation tools, along with Hermione's textbook.
"Ok, Neville, the Headache Reduction Potion is what we're probably going to be doing in class on Monday," Hermione said. "Let's see what you can do."
Neville moved with some trepidation to begin working on the potion. Hermione perched on the desk in front of the workstation, watching him intently. Ron and Harry drifted to observation posts that were a little further out of range of a potions mishap.
Neville found the page with the directions for the Headache Cure potion on them and went to the back of the room to fill his cauldron with water. Returning, he moved to light the brazier but paused when Hermione cleared her throat.
"Is that the right thing to do right now, Neville?" Hermione asked.
"Bringing the water to a boil is the first step of making the potion." Neville replied, slightly indignant. Hermione reached out and slammed the textbook shut.
"What's the second step?" Hermione asked.
"Adding the, um, bubotuber pus?" Neville said, clearly unsure.
"And the third step?" She asked.
"I don't know." Neville admitted.
"You don't know? What if you needed powdered bicorn horn? Did you have time to use your mortar and pestle before they needed to be added? What if you had to chop up some caterpillars?" Hermione said, bringing her hand down on the table in emphasis. "You never start on a potion until you know each and every step! Otherwise you're going to have to rush from step to step, and rushing is how you make mistakes."
Hermione sighed, then pulled an empty notebook from her satchel and handed it over to Neville.
"Copy every step from the textbook into the notebook," Hermione instructed. "Then prepare all of the ingredients you will need. Then start brewing the potion."
Neville followed her directions and for a time the only sound in the room was the scratching of quill on paper. When he finished with the directions he made his way back to the supply cupboard to retrieve the potion components. Hermione was glad to see that Neville had managed to pick out rather healthy looking specimens of each ingredient, and he had a fairly deft hand with the knife as he chopped them down to size.
Ingredients prepared, Neville began the process of brewing the potion. His timing wasn't precise, but he made a fairly good go of it, at least for the first six steps or so of the process. Hermione started when Neville grabbed a giant handful of valerian root-the recipe called for a pinch to be added-but relaxed slightly as he held the handful over the cauldron with one hand while reaching in to grab a pinch with the other. After a brief moment of reflection on the likely result of a valerian overdose, Hermione called out Neville's name sharply.
Neville jerked to attention, dropping the handful of roots into the cauldron. His potion, which had been a nice lavender color, turned a sickly green and began clotting up. A moment later it was a rock solid alien-looking mess in his cauldron.
"Tell me," Hermione said, "what went wrong there?"
"Too much valerian root?" Neville said.
"And why did you add too much valerian root?" Hermione asked.
"You startled me!" Neville said.
Hermione stared at him for a moment, but no further response was forthcoming. "Clean out your cauldron and see if you can think of another answer."
Neville's shoulders slumped as he gathered up the cauldron and moved to the back of the room. At the same time, Ron and Harry moved forward to confront Hermione.
"You just yelled at him until he screwed up!" Ron said accusingly. "This whole thing is just an excuse to pick on Neville."
"Do you think Professor Snape is going to go easy on Neville on Monday?" Hermione asked.
"Snape is a greasy git!" Ron replied.
"It doesn't matter what he is, he's in charge of our potions classes." Hermione replied. "Look, if Neville can't get these accidents under control he could very easily send me to the hospital wing-or worse, lower my grade."
"Wait, how would that be worse?" Harry asked, bemused.
"Believe me," Hermione replied, her eyes narrowing in an unconscious imitation of their potions instructor, "it would be worse for Neville."
Ron and Harry bristled at that, but before they could start another round of argument Neville stepped in to play peacemaker. Once he had convinced them that Hermione was just trying to help him out he turned back to her with a determined expression on his face.
"I think I figured it out," Neville said. "I shouldn't have grabbed that whole handful when all I needed was a pinch."
"Right," Hermione said. "Don't hold anything over a cauldron if you don't want it going into the potion."
With that, Hermione had Neville take another go at making the headache cure. It took a few more tries, but he finally managed to produce something passable. Hermione was pretty sure that with her to help out in class, they would be able to produce a potion that was up to her usual standard.
Hermione was heartened by the fact that her potions grade was no longer in imminent danger, and the grateful smile Neville gave her before they split up more than made up for all the work she had had to put in preparing for his lesson. Hearing Ron moan when he realized he had spent the better part of Saturday studying potions was just icing on the cake.
Life continued on much as it had before, as Hermione was easily able to replace some of her library time with her potions tutoring for Neville. Harry and Ron stopped coming after the first session, though Hermione wasn't sure if it was because they trusted her or if they just wanted to avoid anything smacking of extra work in potions. Neville was never going to develop into an expert brewer, but under Hermione's guidance he was at least able to avoid disaster when he was brewing, and avoid dragging down her grade when they were working together.
Hermione continued to receive top marks in all of her homework, answer every question in class-she took particular joy in answering questions Pansy missed-and earn points for Slytherin (in every class but History of Magic, where the professor scarcely seemed aware of any student's presence, and Potions, where Professor Snape had yet to award points to any first year student). However, none of that seemed to change the attitudes of her fellow Slytherins, and the petty parade of pranks continued. It was frustrating, but she tried not to let it get her down.
Hermione was feeling pretty good as she woke up one October morning, as the first class of the day would be Transfiguration. She was doing well in all her classes, of course, but transfiguration was her favorite. It was the class where she felt the most connection to the material, as well as the instructor. For all that she was a Slytherin and Professor McGonagall was the head of Gryffindor, Hermione really liked the professor, and she felt like she had a bit of a soft spot for Hermione as well.
She noted with a frown as she returned from her morning ablutions that her roommates had already left the dorm. That was usually a bad sign, and a quick search revealed that indeed, Hermione's shoes were missing. She heaved an exasperated sigh and donned the rest of her uniform before starting to search for her shoes. Her roommates should know by now that she knew where all the best hiding places were, this kind of thing wasted as much of their time as it did hers.
Hermione was not feeling so sanguine after a half hour of searching. She had looked everywhere that her shoes might conceivably be in the first year dorm, and she was forced to conclude that they weren't in the room. They might be in the Slytherin common room somewhere, or anywhere in the castle, it didn't really matter-she only had half an hour until class started, and no way to find her shoes before then.
Fighting down a surge of panic, Hermione reminded herself that she was a witch now-she didn't need to limit herself to mundane means of securing footwear. Pulling out an extra pair of socks, she bit her lip in thought. In theory, the general inanimate to inanimate spell should do what she wanted, but she wasn't sure she could pull this off.
Fixing a picture of her shoes in her mind, Hermione made the requisite wand motion and incantation before tapping her socks. They twitched, before transforming into a pair of socks made out of patent leather. She frowned and dispelled the transformation before pulling out her text book.
Flipping through the pages, she located the section she wanted. There were modifications that had to be made to the wand motion both due to the size of the transfiguration and the complexity. She gave a few practice twirls before she was confident in the motion and tried again on the socks.
This time they reformed into... shoe-like objects. Hermione frowned. They certainly weren't going to pass a uniform inspection, but on the other hand she just needed a stopgap until she could find her real shoes. And she was running out of time before Transfiguration began. She shrugged and put on the "shoes" before hobbling off to class as quickly as she could.
The look of surprise on Pansy's face when Hermione entered the classroom was worth all of the pain she had suffered on the walk there. Still, Hermione was grateful to take a seat and relieve the pressure on her feet. Millicent-she and Hermione had built up a decent rapport in non-Potions classes that consisted mostly of sitting next to each other and maintaining a friendly silence-looked like she wanted to say something, but before she could Professor McGonagall showed up to begin the day's lesson.
A half hour later, Hermione was distracted from watching her classmate's attempts to transform teacups into teapots-her own effort long complete-by a twisting sensation on her feet. Glancing under the table, she saw that she was now wearing two pairs of socks, rather than socks and shoes. She thought about trying to take off her socks and renew the transfiguration, but she didn't like her chances of sneaking something like that past Professor McGonagall. After some internal debate on the issue, she was unable to come up with anything better than trying to bluff it out-how often to people look at other people's feet, anyway?
When class was dismissed Hermione gathered up her things and tried to lose herself in the middle of the pack of students exiting the classroom, ignoring the sensation of stone under her feet. She was nearly out the door when Pansy trod down hard on her toe. She yelped and instinctively hopped on one foot, cradling the injured toe in her hands. She immediately realized her mistake, but it was too late.
"Miss Granger! What on earth are you wearing on your feet?" McGonagall asked.
"Socks?" Hermione replied, bracing herself.
"Hmm," McGonagall said, glacing around the room in a knowing fashion, "I don't recall granting you any kind of uniform exemption. Detention, my office, at seven o'clock tonight."
Hermione felt her stomach drop down past her stocking clad feet. For all the abuse she had suffered from fellow students, her academic record had never been less than perfect. She had never had any kind of formal reprimand on her record, had never given a teacher any reason to write anything but glowing comments on her report cards. Now all of that was gone, just like that.
She nodded to McGonagall to acknowledge the detention, then gathered herself and walked back down to the Slytherin dormitory. Sitting on her bed, she drew the curtains closed around herself and tried very hard not to cry. She was still sitting there an hour later when the message came that Professor Snape wanted to see her.
Severus Snape would be the first to admit that he was not good with children. He didn't like them. He didn't like having to teach them, and he especially didn't like having to supervise them in a potions laboratory. If he could lock incoming first years in a box and put off teaching them until they were eighteen and at least a little sensible, he would do it in a heartbeat.
He would also admit-although a little less freely-that he could never have lasted as head of any house but Slytherin. He just didn't have it in him to be nurturing. Fortunately, Slytherins by and large did not need to be nurtured. The house was a snake pit of personal politics, family politics, and always competition, competition, competition. Snape made sure things didn't get out of hand, let the parents know when their offspring needed a little pep talk, and for the most part the house ran itself.
Until Granger came along. Unable to fit into the system, and too stubborn to subordinate herself to it. It was throwing off the usual first year dynamic.
As if summoned by his thoughts, there was a knock on the door. Snape opened it to admit the first year who had been causing so much trouble. Hermione kept her eyes firmly fixed on the floor as she walked in, obviously upset and equally obvious in trying to hide it.
"You'll be happy to know, Miss Granger," Snape said as he took a seat behind his desk, "that I have spoken to Miss Parkinson. Today's... incident... will not be repeated."
"Thank you, sir." Hermione replied.
Snape frowned slightly. There was none of the usual note of triumph at the downfall of an opponent in her voice. She still appeared as despondent as she had when she walked in. This was exactly the kind of situation where he would usually floo a student's parents, which was of course impossible to do when the parents were a pair of dentists. Snape stifled a sigh and steeled himself: this pep talk was going to have to come from him.
"Is something troubling you, Miss Granger?" Snape asked.
Hermione visibly hesitated and bit her lip, but then the words came pouring out of her in a rush. "Why does everybody care so much that my parents are muggles? I'm just as good a witch as they are-better even, in most classes."
"What you have to understand, Miss Granger, is that Slytherin House values success above all other traits," Snape tried to explain. "Family history, personal charm, personal contacts-all of these things can matter as much or more than sheer magical ability. If you're trying to compete on magical talent alone, it's not enough to be a little bit better than your class-you'd have to be twice as good."
"But still, they all hate me, they pick on me," Hermione said, tears starting to leak from her eyes, "they play pranks on me, why me? Why don't they like me? Why do they attack me all the time?"
The last bit came out as a wail, and Snape was confronted with the sight of an eleven year old girl breaking down in tears in his office. It was not a new experience for him-indeed, he had Pansy Parkinson in a similar state only half an hour ago-but usually he was the one who caused them to break down. To have someone so emotionally vulnerable reach out to him for support was unusual, and frankly a little disconcerting.
"Miss Granger, please control yourself." Snape snapped, and she quieted down from openly sobbing to the occasional sniffle, while Snape gathered his thoughts.
Snape never had understood what made people like other people. Whatever intangible quality caused it, it was something he didn't have. But when it came to what made people single others out for bullying, it was a different story. Snape had spent years as a Death Eater watching the power politics being played in the Inner Circle, and more years watching teenagers maneuver for social standing. Over that time he had learned many things: weakness was provocative, strength was attractive, fear was more reliable than love...
As Snape started explaining human nature to Hermione, he found himself warming to the topic. He hadn't had a chance to lecture to a captive audience about anything besides potions for a while, and Hermione was the one first year he could plausibly believe would be capable of understanding any kind of sophisticated lecture. Although she didn't ask any questions, she seemed to be following along as he explained why one should never do an enemy a small injury. He found himself rambling a little bit, and finally cut himself off when he started to tell an anecdote that had ended with Barty Crouch tortured near to the point of insanity. He cleared his throat and made sure he had her full attention.
"I hope you understand," Snape said, "that you are the only person who can solve your problems."
"Yes, sir," Hermione replied. She hesitated, then asked her question after Snape gestured at her impatiently. "It's just-why is it that you don't like me, sir?"
"What makes you think I don't like you?" Snape asked. He did have a certain disdain for transparent brown-nosing, but he thought he had kept his feelings well-hidden. Not that he was worried about being seen to dislike a muggleborn student, but openly disdaining a Slytherin would be bad form for the head of the house.
"You never award me any points," Hermione said. "All the other professors, when I answer a question or do something right, I earn points for Slytherin."
Well of course he wasn't going to award points to a muggleborn-he did have a certain image to maintain. Fortunately, Snape had long since worked out a standard reply to this kind of inquiry.
"You've followed the directions and recited back information you learned from a book," Snape said, steepling his fingers together. "It takes more than that to earn points from me."
He wasn't sure he liked the speculative gleam in her eyes as he ushered her out of his office, but at least she wasn't crying.