Disclaimer: None of these wonderful characters belong to me. If they did, Remus, Tonks and Fred among others, would still be alive and kicking after Deathly Hallows.
AN: This story is a birthday present for my dear PM friend and fellow Ravenclaw Gold Happy birthday, Darling!
Please excuse any mistakes; I try to avoid them, but I'm not a native speaker of English. And if you've got any suggestions for a better title, please let me know
Happy Birthday – Or Is It?
"Good morning, boys," Hermione smiled as she sat across from Harry and Ron at the Gryffindor table.
Ron, whose mouth was – not surprisingly – stuffed with egg and bacons made to say something, but thought better of it when he remembered her disgusted reaction when he had done the same the day before. Harry just gave a little wave. He looked terrible. There were dark rings under his eyes and the back of his right hand looked raw and inflamed. Even as she watched, he tried to stifle a yawn.
Hermione leaned in, "How long did she keep you yesterday, Harry?" Neither of the boys was in any doubt as to which "she" Hermione was referring to.
"Till a quarter past twelve, I think," Harry replied, stifling another yawn. "But I still had to finish my Potions essay for today, so I didn't get any sleep until about half past two."
Normally Hermione would have asked why an essay as comparatively short as the one Snape had set them last lesson had taken so long. But Harry would have had to soak his hand in Essence of Murtlap for at least twenty minutes before he could hope to be able to even hold a quill and even then, his fatigue and the stiffness in his hand would have slowed him down considerably.
The rest of their breakfast passed in silence. Hermione, however, was waiting for one of the boys to say something. After all, it wasn't just any day, was it? No, the 19th September wasn't an ordinary day. Not for her, at any rate. She knew she was getting a little too old to be this excited about something like this, but you didn't turn 16 more than once in your life, did you?
Yes, today was Hermione's birthday. She'd already seen the presents her parents had sent her when she'd woken up, but she'd wanted to wait until Harry and Ron were there with her to open them. After all, what better way to forget everything that was going wrong in their lives at the moment, especially Harry's, than celebrating a birthday? And, as it was only the third week of term, she didn't have that much homework piling up either.
But now it seemed as though both her best friends had forgotten her birthday.
She couldn't really blame Harry, what with the torture he had to deal with every night because of that toad Umbridge. But she'd have thought Ron might have remembered. Especially with the way he was furiously counting down the days until the Quidditch try-outs. Honestly, she didn't know how Harry hadn't picked up on it yet. Then again, they hadn't seen much of each other in the evenings, since his were usually spent in the company of Professor Umbridge. Hermione snorted derisively. There was no being on this earth that deserved the title "Professor" less than that creature.
Slowly, the Great Hall began to empty without any of them really taking note. Hermione was lost in her thoughts, Ron was still busy eating and Harry was just trying to stay awake. He had eaten no more than a bit of buttered toast. Hermione was worried about him. Barely three weeks in, and he already looked as if he might collapse at any moment. Suddenly, her gaze fell on the watch on her wrist and she jumped up.
"Harry, Ron!" she said sharply. "It's almost five to eight! We need to go now or Snape will have our heads."
Harry looked even more miserable at the thought of Potions, but both he and Ron got up, took their bags and together the three of them sprinted down to the dungeons. They got there just in time.
Snape eyed them darkly as they filed into the room behind the others, but obviously decided to pick on them later. Maybe he, too, had noticed just how exhausted Harry looked.
The three of them sat down, but Ron and Hermione decided during an unspoken conversation that they would switch seats for today. Hermione sat down next to Harry and Ron sat with Neville, who looked at them questioningly. Ron just nodded to Harry, who had to be prodded by Hermione in order to stay awake.
The doors to the classroom slammed shut and Snape walked to the front, black robes billowing and - as was so often the case - making him look like an overgrown bat. He turned sharply to face the class when he got to the blackboard.
"Today you will, to the best of your ability," – he sneered at the Gryffindors, who exchanged dark glances – "brew Herbicide. You might not believe this to be very… magical, but I would wear my dragon skin gloves if I were you. It attacks organic matter it finds to be… superfluous to its environment." He gave a nasty little smirk, particularly directed at Harry and Neville, while the Slytherins could hardly contain their glee.
Hermione glared at him and poked Harry to make him get up and help her fetch the ingredients they would need, as though written by an invisible hand.
The lesson passed in much the same way as it always did.
Harry did his best to help and they ended up with him preparing the ingredients and her doing the rest. Hermione had noticed before that Harry handled the chopping knife with ease and precision and wondered if it was simply a natural knack or if it had something to do with his life at the Dursleys.
Snape, as always, swooped around the room, ignoring Crabbe's cauldron when it exploded, sneering at Harry and Hermione's perfect potion and smirking ominously when he saw the small, sickly green lump that was slowly eating its way through Ron and Neville's cauldron.
"Well, well, well…," said he mockingly. "It seems as though you've just created Omnicide rather than Herbicide. Tell me, wouldn't it have been simpler to just pour some nitric acid into your cauldron? It would have had much the same effect, would have taken less time and not wasted valuable ingredients."
With a snap of his wand, the Potions MasterVanished the mass from what was left of Neville's cauldron. Ron's ears had turned a bright red and Neville was clearly praying that the earth might open up beneath him and swallow him whole.
Snape gave a last malicious sneer and turned away from them. The next few minutes passed in silence until the doors opened and Colin Creevey entered.
"Excuse me, Professor Snape," he said, in his usual tone of nervous excitement, "I was asked to tell Harry Potter that Professor McGonagall would like to see him in her office."
Snape's eyes flicked towards Harry, who looked back at him as defiantly as he could in his current state. Finally, Snape turned away.
"Very well, Mr Creevey. Potter, take your things and get out. Ask Miss Granger to give you your homework. Just the questions, not the answers."
Harry nearly tripped over himself in his hurry to get out, shooting an apologetic look at Hermione. She smiled at him slightly and jerked her head in the direction of the door. He smiled his thanks, nodded at Ron and was gone five seconds later
The class ended ten minutes later and everyone brought their more or less finished potions to the front. Amazingly, none of the Slytherins tried to trip Hermione and make her drop her phial. When they were finished, they packed their things and got out of the classroom as quickly as they could.
Hermione took a little longer, since she had to do twice the work the others had had to. She saw Ron waiting for her, but he scurried away quickly when he saw Snape send him a glare extraordinaire. The professor went to the front of the classroom and picked up the phials of potions one by one, putting each of them down again after a thorough examination and a sneer or a raised eyebrow.
Just as Hermione was about to leave, anxious to get away from his foreboding presence, he spoke.
"Well, Miss Granger." She turned around slowly to find him still looking through the potions. "It seems as though congratulations are in order."
"Sir?" she asked, confused.
"Well, from what I've heard, you've lived to see your sixteenth birthday, in spite of having spent the last five years of your life on reckless adventures with Potter and Weasley."
Finally, he shifted his gaze to her. She looked down to avoid his eyes.
"And now they've forgotten your birthday…"
Hermione looked up sharply, ready to defend her best friends.
"Well, they've both had a lot on their minds!" He raised an eyebrow.
"Indeed?" Hermione flushed.
"And anyway, why do you care?" she said in a voice she hadn't used on a teacher since leaving Professor Trelawney's class over a year ago.
"I don't," Snape said. "I simply find it interesting to explore the dynamics of the Golden Trio." He sneered once more. "From what I've observed over the years, Potter plays the part of the misunderstood hero, Weasley plays the part of the clown and you play the part of the insufferable know-it-all. Without your… help they would both have had serious problems. And yet, you don't ask anything in return."
He seemed to be trying to figure her out. Hermione had never been as uncomfortable in her life. But she raised her head, looked him in the eye and spoke her mind, knowing that what she was about to say was not really any of his business.
"I don't need to. Harry knows that he can count on us when he needs us. So does Ron. And I know they'll be there when I need them. Yes, we've all got our differences sometimes and yes, I do most of the academic work, but they don't use me, if that's what you're implying. We help each other any way we can. And I benefit from explaining the material to them too. We've faced challenges far more difficult and deadly than school work and exams and when it really counted, we always knew the other two had our backs."
She knew she'd said too much and expected some comment about sentimentality, but she wasn't prepared for the six words he uttered next.
"And yet they forgot your birthday."
Hermione glared at him and, not knowing how to answer that, stormed out.
She paused when she was two corridors away. What if he was right? Maybe they only let her tag along because she was clever. After all, how could it be that Snape, of all people, realised it was her birthday and her two closest friends did not?
No, that's rubbish. No way. They'd been through too much together.
But still that nagging doubt wouldn't leave her.
Hermione spent the rest of the day alone. She skipped lunch and went to the library instead, busying herself with her Potions homework. She only left the library for Arithmancy class.
When she went back to the Common Room in the evening to get rid of her books before dinner, she was tired and sad. This wasn't how she had pictured her sixteenth birthday. Well, at least she still had her parents' presents to look forward to. But the thought of opening them alone in the dormitory or surrounded by Parvati and Lavender only served to depress her even more.
She stated the password to the Common Room and stepped through the portrait hole. She was met by utter darkness. She frowned and took one more step forwards.
The light of many wands flooded the room and the fire in the fireplace roared to life.
Everyone was there. Every single Gryffindor, from first years to seventh years, even those she didn't know well. But no Gryffindor was going to miss the opportunity to have nice party and Hermione was a bit of a celebrity within the House, both because of her adventures with Harry and Ron and for her academic achievements which made many people wonder why in Merlin's name she hadn't been Sorted into Ravenclaw.
Harry and Ron came towards her, grinning broadly.
"See? We hadn't forgotten," said Ron, while Harry hugged her and said "Happy birthday" in her ear.
"Thanks, Harry," she answered and they broke apart, both still grinning widely at their surrogate brother and sister. Ron, as always, was awkward, but still managed to peck her lightly on the cheek, which resulted in Hermione blushing and Ron's ears once more turning a bright shade of Gryffindor red. And in a lot of jeering and catcalls from Fred and George, but that was to be expected, as well as Harry grinning at them the whole time.
"By the way, Hermione, I'm officially serving detention with Professor McGonagall at the moment," Harry said, as they made their way over to the buffet, no doubt courtesy of Fred and George.
"What?" Hermione asked, absolutely bewildered.
"Well, she'd obviously heard about it from someone," – here Harry glanced in the direction of the twins, who smiled the kind of innocent smile that screams "guilty" – "and decided that I was going to be serving detention with her this evening, rather than in that pink hell Umbridge calls an office."
"Wow, Harry," Ron said, to whom this was obviously news as well, "by Christmas you'll have served more detentions than other record holders have served in an entire school year!"
Harry stuck out his tongue playfully and hit Ron on the shoulder. Hermione laughed and flung her arms spontaneously around the two boys, ignoring Ron's splutter of protest. Over Harry's shoulder – he really was very small compared to Ron – she could see the table in the centre of the room, which was groaning under the weight of the presents laid out on it, many of which were obviously books.
"But," she thought, "in the end it isn't the presents that matter, is it?" Sure, she liked books and quills and sweets – even if she only enjoyed those in moderation – but they didn't fill her with the most joy at that moment. Right then, the fact that she had the two best friends in the world, was enough and she wondered how she had ever doubted them.
Ever since their first year, it had always been "Harry, Ron and Hermione", the Golden Trio.
And, for once, Snape was wrong.