I'm in the middle of a spectacularly scathing rant on the inability of you dunderheads to retain any speck of knowledge in your thick skulls, and this is review work, you fools, were you poisoned as infants or this mentally disabled at birth?... when the door to my classroom groans conspicuously open. The unpleasant sound sends a spike of pain through my temples, already aching with the beginnings of another migraine.
The blasted door could be fixed, of course. I could demand that Filch oil the hinges or simply cast a silencing charm on the cursed thing, but the sheer annoyance of it suits my purposes. A late student cannot simply slink in silently and take a seat. Oh no. The door will call attention to the delinquent in a most humiliating manner. Every head will turn to stare as he or she shuffles to their chair, head down and red-faced. That's only the beginning, of course...
"Finally deigned to join your peers for class, have you? Twenty points from..." I begin, only then turning to look at the interloper to determine house.
"...Gryffindor, Miss Granger," I complete without thought, my brain on automatic after the shock of seeing the ridiculous sight before me.
What in Merlin's name did the girl do to her hair?
The majority of the class snickers, even the Gryffindors, though my Slytherins are loudest. Granger, seemingly unaware that their laughter is for any other reason than her tardiness, walks unashamedly to her habitual seat at the front of the class. She has the grace to look somewhat apologetic as she says "sorry, Professor" and takes out her books.
For a few moments, I can only stare. It's like looking at my mother, but with the oddly displaced features of a pre-teen. That elaborate up-do, the twists and braids woven to create an unsightly beehive atop her head. I haven't seen the like since I last came across Longbottom's hag of a grandmother. I feel an uncharacteristic stab of sympathy for the girl. What is she thinking?
If this is some half-brained attempt at attracting Lockheart's attention (and a despairingly large number of young witches have tried in the past week or so since the beginning of term) she'll be severely disappointed. Attention she'll get, of course, but none of it positive.
"Sir?" Granger prompts, beginning to look concerned. Mostly likely because I'm still staring at that monstrosity masquerading as hair.
I snap to attention.
"If you're quite... settled," I sneer, "Why don't you recite for the class the list of ingredients necessary to brew a forgetfulness potion, in the order of addition. Since you believe yourself so brilliant as to be above punctuality."
Blast. I forgot this was Granger. Rather than regard my demand as a punishment, as any of the other fools would, the twit beams at me and happily chirps off the long list of ingredients. By their scientific names. In order. Perfectly. Merlin.
"And to further enhance the effects, Magical Drafts and Potions says that you can add-"
"Enough, Miss Granger," I grimace and intentionally neglect to award her house points.
I strive not to look at her again for the rest of the class, even as the other dunderheads continue to cast glances and giggle.
Merlin save me from teenagers and their hormone-driven antics.
The following Saturday I enter the library and stride toward the Restricted Section. I promptly stop and entirely forget my purpose for being there when I see the girl sitting at a table, buried among a pile of books.
It isn't the hair that catches my attention today. No, in the past week it has become a terrible but familiar sight. Today it's the voluminous layers of fabric she has draped herself in. Taking advantage of her freedom over the weekend to wear what she wishes, Granger has chosen to don a robe of the highest fashion... circa 1910.
I stand frozen for several minutes, staring at the girl with puzzled frustration, unaware of the passing of time until Granger happens to look up and catch my eye. She noticeably twitches. Then rushes to stand and offer me a clumsy curtsy. Is she mocking me?
"Um, good afternoon, Professor Snape," she says, smiling. Characteristically polite. With more respect than any but my Slytherins ever give me. Not mocking then.
"What are you doing, Granger?" I snap, mind still puzzling over her recent strange behavior. Trying to determine her motivations. She's best friends with the Potter brat. There must be some nefarious purpose behind it.
Bizzare scenarios cross my mind. After attempting a dark ritual she's been possessed by an ancient spirit. She plans to travel back in time and wants to blend in. She's a method actor preparing for an upcoming role over the holidays. Nothing sensible comes to mind. It frustrates me.
"…Reading… sir?" the girl responds, gesturing at her stack of books. I take a step closer and observe their titles. Among the stack I spot The Witches' Book of Etiquette, Moderne Fashions for Discerning Witches, and Genteel Manners and Traditions. All of them look near a century old.
I sneer dismissively.
"The hair, the robes, these books. You just curtsied, Miss Granger. What. Are. You. Doing?"
Granger flushes and pats at her voluminous hair self-consciously.
"Nothing, sir! I just… thought I'd try something different."
"I believe you've surpassed 'different' and entered into the realm of the absurd," I drawl, ignoring her look of surprise and offense. "Either you are taking fashion advice from Longbottom's grandmother or you're plotting something." At least she isn't wearing a hat adorned with dead animals.
"Doesn't it look nice?" Granger asks, looking miserable rather than caught-red-handed like I'd intended. It puts me off balance. Is she really so lacking in awareness as to be unknowing of how strange she looks?
"It is outdated in the extreme," I say frankly, frowning. I don't generally notice, care, or comment on the strange fashions of my students. But something about the girl's bewildered vulnerability tugs at my buried sympathies. "The sources that you are emulating are near ancient. Styles have since changed."
"Oh." It's a whisper. A disappointed exclamation.
"You have no ulterior motives, Miss Granger?" I confirm, still suspicious. What has provoked her sudden attempt to don wizarding fashions if not some prank or plot?
"I just… wanted to fit in," she says, plucking at her robes. "Wanted to look less like a- a mudblood."
"Don't say that word!" I snarl, fists clenched.
Granger stares at me with wide eyes, and I take a deep breath, consciously attempting to relax as I exhale.
"That word is… impolite, Miss Granger, and it will be twenty points from Gryffindor if you speak it again."
The girl nods frantically. The threat of deducting points is always effective with swots like her.
"I'm sorry, sir. It's just that Ma- I mean, someone used it last week and I realized that… well, I don't understand wizards very well. I just want to fit in. I don't want it to be so obvious that my parent are muggles, you know? …Um, sir."
I feel an unfamiliar pang somewhere in my psyche. An ache of remembrance. Of desperately trying to fit in. Of trying to disguise my poor and muggle upbringing.
"A useless and moreover impossible endeavor," I snap, unaccountably angry that she's dug up old wounds.
Granger visibly wilts. A look of pained misery on her face. The ache intensifies. I feel compelled to elaborate.
"Miss Granger, you can study books and emulate others as much as you'd like, adopt wizarding habits and traditions. But their culture will never be yours."
When this explanation serves only to depress the girl further, I reluctantly speak again. Each word is uncomfortably extracted.
"This is not… a horrible thing, Miss Granger. As an outsider you can objectively see that the wizarding world too has its flaws. You can… adopt the good and ignore the bad. You may never feel the entitlement of a pureblood, see the importance of good breeding and an unbroken bloodline, but you possess muggle ideals of equality and free choice. Opportunity and innovation.
You can encompass the best of both worlds. Share with others the best of your culture and they will respond in kind. You can prove yourself a valuable addition to the wizarding world, not by emulating others but by recognizing the merit of your muggle heritage while respecting different ideas and values."
By the end of my speech-which somehow along the way becomes a passionate monologue-there is a suspicious glimmer in Granger's eyes. An expression of mingled surprise, gratitude, and awe on her young features.
I draw myself tall and cross my arms. After this lapse I must reassert my character.
"Ten points from Gryffindor for your foolishness, Miss Granger. I expect you to desist in this absurd charade immediately. Go to your dorm and put on something appropriate."
The girl looks mildly subdued, but a smile still tugs at her lips. Blast. I'll need to make up for this somehow. I can't have her thinking I'm the decent sort.
"Yes, sir," she says demurely and drops into a small curtsy. This time I'm sure it's in jest.
I sneer and turn on my heel with a billow of my robes. Ignoring the girls polite "good afternoon, sir," I leave the library, mentally berating myself and completely forgetting that I'd come to fetch a book.
The next day Granger is dressed in her usual clothes, hair its usual frizzy mess. She smiles at me and I frown in return.
Years later when the other professors are gossiping and chuckling about the girl's campaign for the Society for the Promotion of Elvish Welfare (or S.P.E.W.), I feel a glimmer of pride and satisfaction.
I suppress it. And life moves on.
AN: Sorry this isn't a Secret Steps update. I had a rare free day today and found this half-finished one-shot hidden in my documents folder. Hope you enjoyed it. Comments and critique appreciated. :)