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Chapter 30 — Professor Granger-Snape, I presume?




Hermione closed her eyes and inhaled the scent of roasted potatoes, the aroma bringing thoughts of home and comfort and family suppers. She kept her eyes firmly closed against the sight of Colin and Denis Creevey, who had shouldered their way between Ron and Harry to sit directly across from her at the Gryffindor supper table. She knew from her brief glimpse that Colin was practically vibrating in place. Denis had a somewhat better hold on his enthusiasm, but it was a close thing. She felt a sharp stab of sympathy for all her teachers over the years, if that was what they'd had to deal with with her in their classes.

"Professor Slughorn is taking over his first Potions class tomorrow," Colin said.

Hermione was aware of that fact. She was also aware that Professor Slughorn, a short man with a large belly and an enormous silvery walrus-like moustache, was currently sitting at the Head Table next to Professor Sinistra.

The first two weeks of term had already flown by, and Professor Slughorn had finally made his long awaited appearance. She'd looked the former professor up in the library. He was not what she would have guessed as the man who had taught Potions to Snape. She had expected someone strict and methodical, much like Snape himself. Instead, Professor Slughorn reminded her of a gentleman from a Regency romance — fond of good food and wine, full of jovial good humor and prone to wearing lavish, old-fashioned clothes. She'd even run into him one evening in the hallway wearing a deep maroon, velvet smoking jacket. She'd been unable to contain her grin at the mental image of this man teaching a somber and scowling teenaged Snape.

Snape. There was another subject she was avoiding, like the Creeveys and Slughorn.

Bowing to the inevitable, Hermione opened her eyes. "Colin, do you really think that a Potions class will be necessary this year since Professor Snape will not be teaching it?"

"Yes. Potions is hard." At her raised brow, he added, "Well, hard for me anyway. And even if Professor Slughorn isn't as scary as Professor Snape, it can't hurt to do the revision."

"Revision? What are you talking about?" Ron asked.

"You know, Hermione's Potions class."

Ron gave Hermione a weighted glance before turning his attention back to Colin. "No, I can't say I do know. Tell me about it."

Colin, ever eager to please, proceeded to spill everything. "Neville and I were flunking Potions." Colin paused and backtracked a bit in his explanation. "Okay, Neville was flunking Potions and Hermione set up a revision class to help him. I sort of lucked into it. I don't think I would have got anywhere near as good a grade if it wasn't for Hermione. She was a life saver, and Neville and I want her to teach it again, but Hermione thinks that since Professor Snape won't be teaching this year that she doesn't have to do the study classes."

Harry's attention had finally been drawn into the conversation. "You were teaching Potions?"

Hermione shook her head. "No, I wasn't teaching Potions. I was just revising things Professor Snape had already taught in class."

"Why didn't you invite us?"

"There really wasn't anything to invite you to, at least at first. It was just about helping Neville over his fear of Professor Snape. It wasn't a real class. And really, Ron, do you actually think you would have come to a Potions study class? I can barely get you to go to the library."

"You still could have asked. Hey, maybe Harry should start up the DA classes again."

Hermione considered the suggestion for moment. "It might not hurt to start up a Defence study class but Harry was teaching the DA classes because Umbridge wasn't teaching us anything. Do you really think we'll need that?"

"If Snape's teaching us right."

"Oh, Harry. Have you seen anything in the past two weeks that Professor Snape has taught us that isn't correct?"

He snorted in dismissal. "We're revising first year material. That's hardly going to help when it comes time to face the Death Eaters."

"All knowledge is useful," she countered. "And learning seventh year defence and counter-spells won't do us any good if we don't have the foundation of the previous years to build on. That's why he's doing the revision."

"You know what I think? I think he's doing this so-called revision so that we'll be deliberately behind another twelve weeks. So that we'll be weak when he and his ifriends/i attack." Harry stood up, his hands clenched tight at his sides. "I think a Defence study class sounds great."

Ron watched Harry walk away with a worried look on his face. Hermione suspected that she was wearing the same look.

"Anyone else think he's acting a bit touched in the head?"

"Dennis!"

"Well, he is," Colin said, defending his brother. "So, Hermione, about Potions?"

"Fine, Colin. First class tomorrow, at the usual time in the Room of Requirement. We'll discuss specifics then, okay?"

"Sure, Hermione. That'll be great. I'll tell Neville."

Ron watched Colin and Dennis race away and cut his eyes sideways at Hermione. "If anyone is touched in the head, it's those two."

She chuckled. "They mean well."

"Uh, huh. If you say so."

Hermione entered the library, intent on finding a copy of a work referenced in her Arithmancy textbook. She didn't quite understand the connection the book was making and was hoping the referenced text would provide a better explanation. Plus, she needed to quiet place to think about what she was going to do with her Potions class tomorrow.

The library on a Wednesday evening was sparsely populated with students. She did spot Harry and Ginny sharing a far table. Although sharing might be too strong a word, she decided, as she headed in their direction. The two may have been sitting at the same table but there was an almost palpable distance between them. She had to give Ginny points though for her perseverance and determination to stick by Harry in the face of his distancing.

Ginny gave her a small, tired smile. "Hey, Hermione."

Harry looked up at Ginny's words, gave a perfunctory grunt in greeting and turned his attention back to copying from the book spread open on the table.

Hermione, well used to the manners of teenage boys, took a quick glance at the book. "Defence essay due on Friday?" she asked Ginny.

Ginny, who had her own stack of books and as a sixth year was also under Snape's 'catch up to everything you've missed' regime, nodded. "I never realised how much we've missed in the last couple of years."

Hermione, who'd finished her own essay the previous evening, gave her a sympathetic smile. "At least we're learning now." She took a quick look around. "Where's Ron? I figured he'd be here too."

"Amazingly enough, my brother already finished his. He disappeared about an hour or so ago in that direction" — Ginny waved a hand toward a shadowed row of bookshelves — "muttering something about attacks and feints."

"Attacks and feints?"

Ginny shrugged. "Weird brother being even weirder."

"I'll see if I can find him," Hermione said with a laugh. With a half-wave, she went in search of Ron.

She found him kneeling next to a low table, a half-dozen books open and spread across its surface. "Ron?"

He raised a hand in a shushing gesture, his attention never wavering from the table. Her curiosity piqued, Hermione slid around to the other side. A chess board was set up in the midst of the books. It was smaller than Ron's normal board and the pieces looked more like mundane Muggle pieces than the highly stylised and almost-life like wizarding chess pieces.

She was startled to see one of the chess pieces abruptly slide across the board as if an invisible hand has moved it. "I didn't know that chessboards could play by themselves."

Ron studied the board for a minute and then turned to pull one of the books closer, rapidly flipping through its pages. "They can't," he said absently, his eyes never leaving the book. "This is a remote player set. I'm playing Snape. He has a board just like this one wherever he is; dungeons, I suppose. The boards work in connection with each other, reflecting the moves each player makes. Then if one player needs to leave the game or move the board, the game can be frozen and set up later." He flipped another couple of pages and growled low in his throat before pushing the book aside and grabbing another one.

Having rarely seen Ron this impassioned about anything that had to do with books, Hermione took a seat at a nearby table to watch.

Again Ron started flipping pages, every so often looking back at the board. At this point, Hermione was fairly sure that he had forgotten she was even there.

She tilted her head slightly to get a better look at the spines of two of the books: Wizard Chess: Opening Strategies and Wizard vs Muggle: Modern Chess Endgames. Neither book title told her any useful information or explained what Ron was doing. She found it encouraging though that Ron was still playing Snape and taking it very seriously.

Ron muttered something rude to the board that had Hermione covering her mouth with her hand lest Ron look up and catch her grinning at him.

"Ah ha!" He stabbed his finger down onto the page. "I knew it. You're trying to pull Farrakan's Decision. I don't think so."

Another few pages were flipped. "Come on . . .come on. Counter strategy. Have to have a counter strat . . . there it is. Got you now."

Hermione watched as Ron set aside the book and then leaned back over the chessboard. The next series of moves were fast and precise. "You move the knight . . . my castle goes there . . . then, yes, I see where . . . very clever that. Which means that the queen is. . . oh, I see. Run the risk of losing or winning all in one fell . . . okay, we'll try it your way."

Ron reached out and moved another piece, but his body prevented her from seeing which one. The results however were never in question as Ron jumped to his feet with a iwhoop/i.

"Ron!" she hissed, "Keep quiet."

Ron slapped a hand over his mouth and looked around guiltily. Luckily Madam Pince was nowhere to be found and he let out a sigh. "Sorry." Then he grinned. "But I won."

She let out a soft chuckle. "With a little help from the books."

Giving her a lopsided grin, Ron began putting away the chessboard. "All's fair in love, war and chess, Hermione. Besides, Snape doesn't play like anyone I've ever seen. It's all set patterns and strategies and stuff I've never heard of before, much less seen. It's like he plays in code. I'm still losing more than I'm winning, but I'm getting better."

Board in hand and with two of the books tucked up under his arm, Ron gestured towards the front of the library. "You coming?"

She shook her head. "I've got some reading I want to do. I'll see you guys in the common room later."

Pulling out one of the books passed to her by Professor Vector, Hermione settled back to read. iWho would have ever thought . . . Ron Weasley doing research in the library./i A soft cough pulled her attention back. Ron was still standing there, board and books still in his arms. He looks nervous. "Ron?"

"I haven't said anything . . . well, you haven't either . . . and . . . do you ever think about it?"

She put down her own book, giving him her full attention. "It?"

"It. You know . . . what's coming."

"Ron—"

"I'm sure you do," he said, as if she hadn't said his name. "You think about everything. It's what makes you you. But, do you ever think about us and . . . Harry."

"Stop!" She held up a hand. If this was the conversation she thought it was, she didn't want it overheard by any of Professor Dumbledore's listening devices. Pulling out her wand, she gestured Ron closer to her own chair and then set a Silencing spell around the two of them.

At his quizzical expression, she gave a shake of her head. "The walls have been known to have ears. But I think we're okay now. And yes, I think about it a lot. I think about my parents, your family, about all the witches and wizards who've just vanished without a trace, and Harry and the prophecy and what it means to him. I worry about—" She caught her breath and then continued softly, "I worry about a lot of people."

Here it was, the conversation they didn't have; the elephant in the room.

"He's getting worse instead of better."

"Ron . . . ."

"You know what he's doing." It was a statement and not a question.

She shook her head. "No. Not really, anyway. Not for sure. It's just a guess."

"Hermione, I'd bet on your guesses against other people's facts any day." Ron gave her a small smile. "What do you guess?"

Hermione wondered if Ron would believe or deny her. "I think he's playing with Dark Magic."

Ron's shoulders slumped. "Yeah, that was sort-of my guess too."

They both fell silent for a moment, staring at each other. Finally, Ron asked, "Got any bloody brilliant plans that will save the day and get us out of this mess?"

She gave a short laugh, though even to her ears there was little mirth in it. "Not a one. Although, you are actually doing a great job doing what you're doing."

That seemed to really surprise him. "I am? What am I doing?"

"You touch him."

Both of Ron's eyebrows rose up, almost disappearing into his hairline. "Uh huh."

"Oh, don't look at me like that," she huffed. "I mean that you touch him — a hand on his arm, knocking your shoulder into his — all the little ways that two people touch each other. I've been doing some reading—"

"Surprise there," he said half-jokingly.

"I've been doing some reading," she repeated pointedly. "Human touch conveys a wealth of information. Muggles have done a lot of studies on human touch and how we respond to it. And while wizarding society hasn't done much real research, there are tons of books that mention human touch and how it works for and against magic. Touch can denote comfort and caring and love. It can ground us and remind us of where we are and who we are. And Ron, Harry desperately needs to remember who he is. Who Harry Potter is — not just the Boy-Who-Lived, or the unnamed individual in a prophecy that is suppose to defeat evil. I think he's forgotten that."

She touched the mirror in her robe pocket. "I think Harry's forgotten a lot of things, and he's forgetting even more of them as time goes on."

"So what do we do? Go to Dumbledore?"

"No. I don't think Professor Dumbledore is the right way to go."

"Why not?"

Professor Dumbledore's been taking Harry for special lessons since the summer and Harry's successfully hidden whatever he's doing from him. He's been putting a lot of pressure on Harry to be the savior of the wizarding world. I . . . I don't know what Dumbledore would do if he suddenly found out that Harry was using Dark Arts."

Eyes wide, Ron blanched. "You aren't suggesting—"

"No," she answered quickly. "I don't think the Headmaster would do anything to hurt Harry. I think he genuinely cares for him. I'm just not completely sure how he'd react to Harry being . . . I don't know, less than pristine in his eyes."

Ron was staring at her, his expression one of deep concentration. Slowly, as if the words coming out of his mouth were a surprise to him even as he said them, Ron asked, "Hermione, do you even like Professor Dumbledore?"

"Sometimes." She gave a half-shrug as she tried to order her thoughts and put into words everything that up until this point has just been feelings and impressions. "I respect him and his abilities. I think he's doing everything he can to ensure that the wizarding world survives Voldemort. But I can't say I always agree with his methods, and I won't just blindly follow along with whatever he says without thinking about it good and hard. Does he have the best interests of the wizarding world at heart? Yes. Does he have the best interests of the people involved? Yes and No. Sometimes." She shrugged again. "I think for him it depends on the individual and the situation."

"You're completely daft. Dumbledore is—"

"Calculating and warm. Manipulative and determined. Scheming and brave. The kind of man who won't let his compassion get in the way of what he thinks has to be done."

I wonder if he knows how completely gobsmacked he looks?

"You make him sound like a Slytherin."

"I make him sound like a Slytherin mixed with equal parts of the other Houses."

"He was a Gryffindor!"

"Actually, I think he is a Slytherin. Just think Ron, how cunning would you have to be, to be a Slytherin and deliberately get yourself put in Gryffindor?"

Ron spluttered at the thought. "Daft. Completely daft."

She laughed. "It's just a working theory."

"A completely barmy one. And sweet Merlin, Hermione, don't ever share that theory with Harry. Crippen, you've made my brain hurt. Next thing you'll be saying that Malfoy is a Hufflepuff in disguise."

"Well . . . ."

"No. I'm not listening." Then abruptly his good humor fled. "Right. No Dumbledore. Guess we figure out how to fix him together."

Hermione squashed the niggle of guilt at the thought that she'd already involved Snape, but she gave Ron the answer he needed to hear. "We'll find a way and fix him together."

She wasn't sure how much time had passed between Ron leaving her and when she caught the sound of harsh voices pitched low. She didn't mean to eavesdrop; it was more the awareness of the tone of the voices that made her tune into the conversation and she didn't like the sound of this one. So even if she hadn't been actively listening, she wouldn't have missed the unmistakable sound of children's taunting voices. It had a universal sing-song cadence with an underscored thread of self-satisfied malice that made it unmistakable.

Hermione took her Prefect duties very seriously. Leaving her books and getting up from her table, she followed the sound of high-pitched young voices around the tall shelves until she spotted a group of four older children, second or third years by their size, their patches identifying them as two Gryffindors, a Ravenclaw and a Hufflepuff, standing ringed around one nervous looking little Slytherin girl, a first year if Hermione's somewhat fuzzy memory of that year's Sorting ceremony was correct.

The taunts were designed to wound, although Hermione noted that the girl, while outnumbered, had her chin up and a very good attempt at an indifferent mask on her face.

"Everyone knows that Slytherins are all Dark wizards and witches."

"Nothing but a bunch of killers."

Hermione had heard enough. Taking a leaf from Professors Snape's book of coming unexpectedly from out of the shadows, Hermione didn't announce her presence. "Well, well, well. I can see that some students haven't been paying attention in Professor Binns' History of Magic class." Without even realising it, she fell into her Professor Granger-Snape persona, her voice taking on a cold, mocking edge as she addressed the other students.

Five startled faces swung in her direction, four of them with varying degrees of guilt and one that was still struggling to be impassive in the face of her tormentors. Hermione felt her anger ratchet up a notch at the look of resignation on the younger girl's face. She fully expected Hermione to join in the fun.

It was seeing the guilt on the two Gryffindors' faces sliding into smug anticipation and triumph that exploded the top off of Hermione's simmering anger at the situation. She'd seen that self-same expression too many times on Malfoy's face when Professor Snape had stepped between some altercation between Malfoy and Harry, only to take the Slytherin side of things without even hearing what was going on.

Hermione's eyes narrowed. If they thought she'd let them get away with bullying, they were in for a rude awakening. And considering all the reading she'd been doing lately about the Dark Arts and Slytherins in general, she knew just how to do it.

"Mr. Thomas," she began, addressing the lone Hufflepuff of the group, "I find it fairly odd that you would cast stones at another House about producing Dark wizards and witches. It is, after all, fairly common knowledge that one of the Darkest witches in wizarding history was a Hufflepuff. In fact, she was one of Helga Hufflepuffs best and brightest protégés. That is until she murdered over a hundred Muggle and magical children. Did you know that Muggle children still have legends about her? They call her Bloody Mary.[1] Amazing really, what happens to that Hufflepuff need to nurture when twisted by the Dark Arts. And let's not forget all the Hufflepuffs who made up Grendelwald's followers. I believe it was the unswerving and unquestioning loyalty of which Hufflepuffs are famed that got them in trouble that time."

She swung her gaze over to the Ravenclaw in the group. "I'm sure I don't need to tell you, Miss Cheshire, about the less than noble Ravenclaws that have been scattered through history."

She addressed the wide-eyed Slytherin girl, who was no longer making an attempt to hide her amazement at this unexpected turn of events. "Ravenclaws, you see, have a tendency to let their intellectual pursuits get in the way of their compassion and humanity, which leads to people like Cornelius Evertop, who started killing people for alchemy ingredients and then branched out into human experimentation."

Hermione turned back to the now beet-red Ravenclaw. "I forget, Miss Cheshire. Do you remember how many people he killed before he was captured?"

At the girl's silence, Hermione shrugged. "I guess numbers really don't matter. A killer is a killer after all."

Next Hermione turned her verbal wrath on the two Gryffindors. "All Dark wizards come from Slytherin, do they?" Gryffindors are immune? Shall we name a few Gryffindors that have gone over to the Dark? How about Matilda Coleridge? How about Nathan Cammert? How about one closer to home? How about Peter Pettigrew, the supposed best friend of Harry Potter's father who betrayed Harry's parents to Voldemort, killed a dozen people, Muggle and magical alike, and then framed those murders on Sirius Black while brave Gryffindor Peter went into hiding for twenty years, only to come out of hiding so he can stand at the hand of Voldemort himself?"

"But You-Know-Who-"

" . . . was a Slytherin?" Hermione finished. "So? The Head of St. Mungo's is also a Slytherin. Over sixty percent of the Ministers of Magic have been Slytherins. In the past five hundred years a good percentage of the innovations and magical advancements have been made by Slytherins. Do you want to hazard a guess as to why?"

With no answer forthcoming, Hermione answered for them. "The reason is ambition. Slytherins will always work to towards being the best, the cream of the crop, if you will. Slytherins as a rule don't like being second best or having to court another's favour. That's why they are Ministers, Department Heads, Headmasters,and top researchers in Charms and Potions."

They were all staring at her now, the Hufflepuff boy, Thomas, was actually pressed up against one of the bookcases trying to get away from her. Probably sparking again, she thought. Going to have to figure out how to control that.

"Twenty-five points from Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and fifty from Gryffindor for the both of you. Now get back to your common rooms."

They scattered with an alacrity that brought a smile to her face.

The Slytherin girl was watching her, eyes narrowed in assessment. Hermione was just about to ask her name, when the girl took off toward the front with a word.

In a fit of self-indulgent annoyance, she called after her. "You're welcome."

Hermione jumped at the soft chuckle that sounded behind her. "She won't thank you."

She felt her cheeks flush in embarrassment as she turned around. "I didn't do it for thanks." At his raised brow, she added, "I did it because it was the right thing to do."

"Perhaps. May it not come back to bite you," he said with a small nod of his head before he faded back into the shadows of the stacks.

She gave a soft sigh at his retreating form. "Oh, I'm sure it will."

Severus sank down into his favourite chair. Albus was not in his office, but Severus knew he'd be there soon enough. In the meantime, he sat, absorbing the smells — tea, ginger and lemon — and the sounds — the steady click and whirl of the many devices in the room — and let the tension flow out of him as he waited, his mind on the encounter in the library he'd just witnessed between Granger and her fellow students.

With a flutter of wings, Fawkes settled beside him on the arm of the chair, several long feathers drifting down to settle on the patterned rug.

Severus gave him a glance. "You are looking a bit bedraggled, bird."

Fawkes tilted his head and regarded Severus with one beady black eye. He chirped softly with a note that sounded of reproach.

Severus harrumphed in mock annoyance. "I am not Albus and will not bow to your vanity. You are at the beginning of your molt cycle, and I will not flatter a bird who cannot manage to keep his own feathers."

Severus reached out and ran the back of one knuckle gently down Fawkes' breast, his actions at odds with the acidity of his words. Several more feathers fluttered down at the touch. Fawkes made no protest, rather leaning into the caressing finger. Then he warbled a note, the tone rising, before he reached out his long neck and tugged on a lock of Snape's lank hair. The phoenix settled back with smug cheep.

He almost laughed then. Damn the bird for pointing out his own less than stellar plumage. But laughing at this point would mean that Fawkes had won this round. That would never do. Drawing back from the bird he narrowed his eyes in menace.

Fawkes dipped his head and gave a sharp click of his beak.

"At least I-"

Albus took that opportunity to sweep into the room from the far door, his eyes taking in the scene. "Severus, are you arguing with Fawkes again?"

Severus sat back and gave a disdainful sniff. "I do not argue with birds."

Beside him, Fawkes stretched his wings and gave an equally disdainful trill before launching himself into the air to settle on his regular perch.

"Of course, not," Albus said with chuckle. "Forgive me, both of you." Settling himself into his own chair behind the desk, Albus let the humor of the previous moment fade away. "Has Tom called you?"

Severus feeling the change in Albus' mood, straightened. "No, but I have received several warnings through the Mark. He will call me soon. It would be best if we are prepared."

"You know I've been working with Harry. When he calls you, tell him about those sessions. It should put some caution in him."

"It won't last."

"No, but it might buy us some time. Albus studied him over steepled fingers. "You've spoken to Miranda?"

"About her equations? Yes. I've seen the accelerated timeline she is predicting."

"Did you see the other?"

"I saw."

"Do not take this lightly, Severus," Albus snapped.

Severus gave him a faint smile. "We have already discussed this. Miranda's matrix makes the path I must tread clear. It changes nothing."

"And what of Miss Granger?"

"What of her? Her path is as clearly marked with my own. You know that I will do what I can to protect her, but this path is one that you yourself have helped to place her on. Do you really expect me to believe that now you worry for her safety? That you are not prepared to sacrifice us all if it means that Harry Potter defeats the Dark Lord?"

"I do not wish to sacrifice anyone," Albus said sharply. "But you know the stakes in this even better than I."

Severus sighed. "That I do."

Fawkes shuffled his wings, disturbing the silence that had fallen.

"Have you ascertained the reason for her uniqueness?"

"No. The girl is simply herself, Albus. She has very little association with me at this point. Our only connection is what I am teaching her, and even that interaction is minimal." He thought again on what he'd just witnessed in the library. "Minimal though it has been, she had learned from our interactions. Given her temperament, though, and normal life experiences, she would have come to it on her own."

"Severus Snape, you like the girl."

"You don't have to make it sound like such an extraordinary thing. I like you too, though Merlin knows why." It amused him to surprise the Headmaster. It truly was the little things in life: making an entire class of Hufflepuffs cry, taking House points from Gryffindors, and surprising Albus Dumbledore. The last was especially gratifying in that it happened so rarely.

Albus raised his bushy brows.

"Yes, I enjoy Miss Granger's company. Do you know how long it has been since I've had a discussion with anyone that did not revolve around potions, the Dark Lord, or my impending death?"

"Severus!"

He bowed his head. "Apologies, Albus. That was uncalled for. But to answer the question you didn't ask, I do not believe that Miss Granger's studies with me are what is represented in the matrix. Vector agrees."

"But the timing-"

"Seems to be only a coincidence, or, at least, in part a coincidence. The girl's studies are a part of it, but they aren't everything. Hermione Granger has not yet revealed her true purpose."

Hermione stood outside of the Room of Requirement. Colin, Dennis and Neville would be inside waiting on her. She looked down her school robes and debated: should she change into what Neville had dubbed Granger-Snape or wait? Not yet, she decided. She needed to talk to them and figure out what they were expecting first. She grinned. And then I'll don the ceremonial robes.

Hermione swept into the room, the door banging loudly against the wall. Just inside the door she came to an abrupt halt. There were students there. A lot of students.

"Colin!"

As the younger boy cringed, she knew she'd nailed the culprit.

"Now, Hermione-"

"Outside," she growled. "Now!"

Colin left his seat and slunk out of the room, his shoulders hunched up around his ears. As the door to the Room of Requirement swung closed, Hermione turned on Colin. "Talk."

"I didn't know so many people would show up. I was just excited. And, well, everyone noticed how much better Neville was doing last year. I told them about you and they wanted to get help too. I didn't think you'd mind. I swear Hermione, I just mentioned to a few people how you'd helped Neville and I."

Hermione slumped against the wall, head hanging down. "Neville and me."

"What?"

"It's Neville and me, not Neville and I." She let out a strangled laugh. "This isn't going to work, Colin."

"But-"

"No."

She pushed off from the wall. "Come on."

Colin followed her back into the room like a whipped puppy. A roomful of eyes trailed her as she made her way to the front of the room. Thank God I decided to wait on dressing like Snape. That would have been a disaster.

"Everyone, I want to thank you for coming tonight but I'm afraid that-" Hermione stopped as the door at the back of the room creaked open. Several people turned in their chairs to look back.

Hermione felt her heart start pounding as a short figure slipped around the door frame. It was the Slytherin first year from the library.

A sharp chin rose up a fraction in defiance. "They said you've got a Potions study class. I need help."

Hermione's eyes swept over the other students — Gryffindors, a couple of Ravenclaws and a few Hufflepuffs — and made a decision. At least one Slytherin, it seemed, had made her choice and Hermione would be damned before she'd let this opportunity for school unity slip away.

"What's your name?"

"Agnes Worth."

Hermione smiled at the girl. "Then come in, Miss Worth. We were just about to talk about what this study session will be like."

Ch 31: And So It Begins

 

Author's Note 1: Behold the power of the Rink fangirls — he leads off the story. Pretty soon his ego is going to be bigger than his ears.

Author's Note 2: I know you guys know this already but it won't hurt to give you a reminder — this story is not compliant with HBP or DH. I may take some elements from those stories but everything that happened in those books does not necessarily happen in this story. And in case anyone forgot, JKR owns everything. I'm just playing with her toys.

Special thanks to whitehound and Keladry who consent to beta read for me.





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