"Why would you want to do an honors project anyway?" Ron asked, rolling his eyes at Harry over a pile of Hermione's books.
She had stacked every textbook she'd ever used at Hogwarts--along with a large number of other weighty tomes, both her own and the library's--on the common room table and had been poring over them since dinner. (The collection even included Gilderoy Lockhart's collected works, Ron had noted with a twinge of jealousy on the first night. "Honestly, Ron," Hermione had said. "Like I could still find that dunderhead remotely attractive.") It had been the same thing every night for at least a week.
Keeping her eyes on the page she was skimming in her upper-level Transfigurations textbook, Hermione sighed, then answered Ron as if reciting for a teacher, "Because, Ron, it will let me really show what I can do. And it will look great on my application to university. Besides, it's a challenge."
She looked straight at him, just in time to see him pulling a face at Harry. "How many times do I have to explain it?"
Harry decided to intercede before the two started their argument--now routine--in earnest.
"It's just that it's going to be our final year, Hermione, and we don't want you to have to spend all of your time in the library. We want you to have some fun. We want to actually see you sometimes, and not just over the dinner table, like this term."
It was almost the truth. Hermione had been working on an independent study with Professor Vector, her Arithmancy professor, this term--the spring term of their sixth year at Hogwarts. She had been so utterly engrossed in the project that she'd barely had time to do anything else but eat, sleep, and, of course, do her homework for their other classes.
Hermione was in her element: not only did she have a natural talent for the subject at hand, which, combined with her easy friendship with Professor Vector, had made the study into more of a reward than a task, she also desperately wanted to prove that Professor McGonagall had made the right choice in allowing her to do an independent study in her sixth year. That privilege ("Torture, more like," Ron had scoffed) was generally reserved for seventh-year students.
Of course Hermione would do well. But doing well wasn't good enough for their friend, Harry told himself. She had to excel, had to prove to herself, to her professors, and to everyone within a ten-kilometer radius that she belonged at Hogwarts. Even after this many years, Hermione Granger was insecure.
Nobody would have believed it of her. Hermione was confident in the classroom, smart, clever, quick with an answer--and downright bossy. Harry realized it, but he wasn't completely sure that Ron did. Even though Ron and Hermione had been "going out" this school year ("And it's about time," thought Harry), Ron still saw Hermione as something of a know-it-all. Someone who liked school too much, worked too hard even when things came easily, and spent too much time trying to win the favor of her professors--and most of them already liked her too well and praised her too often for Ron's taste.
Harry knew that it was hard on Ron, what with Harry getting all of the attention every year for whatever danger the three had weathered and Hermione gaining the dubious rank of teacher's pet with half the faculty.
For her part, Hermione knew that she hadn't been there for her two best friends that term, and, easing the furrow out of her brow, she looked at Harry across the mountain of books.
"I'm sorry, Harry. I know I've been busy this semester. And yes, an honors project will mean the same thing next school year. But…I know you may not understand this, Ron…" she faltered, turning to him, "I have to do this. I just have to." She looked back down at her notes, but didn't pick up her quill.
Ron, abashed, was quiet for a moment. Then he reached over, circumventing the dusty library volumes on Charms, and took her hand.
"Sure you do, Hermione. It's just that…well, we miss you when you're not around. I miss you."
Hermione smiled weakly, not looking up at him. She removed her hand from his grasp and adopted what Harry referred to teasingly as "her best classroom tone."
"Right. Then I'd better get back to it. The deadline for declaring intent is next Friday, so I have to decide what topic I want to propose for the study and make sure the professor is willing to take on an honors project at all. I've already spoken to McGonagall, Vector, and Flitwick--all of them gave me some great suggestions for topics. I'm going to meet with Remus…"
"That's Professor Lupin to you," Harry teased. They were all so friendly with Remus Lupin now that he'd been rehired as the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher that they had to remind each other not to call him by his first name. Ron had called him "Remus" in class once, and had lost five points for Gryffindor before he realized what he'd done.
"…Professor Lupin…" Hermione shot Harry a look, "tomorrow, though I don't think I want to do a study in Defense. I still have to arrange a time to meet with Professor Sprout…"
"And Professor Trelawny," Ron added, sniggering.
"…and Professor Snape," Hermione finished, ignoring Ron.
Ron and Harry looked at each other, eyes wide. "Snape?!" Ron exclaimed before Harry had a chance to respond. "You're going to do an honors project with Snape?! You are daft!"
Hermione clenched her jaw and raised an eyebrow. Before she could respond, Harry interrupted Ron's tirade. "I thought you were just talking to other professors as a…sort of…courtesy, or, well, just to make sure you hadn't missed anything. I thought for sure you'd wind up doing a project with Vector again."
Hermione chose to answer Harry, rather than dignify Ron's reaction with a response--he was still muttering something that sounded like "Snape" and "dolt" under his breath, and it was better to ignore him.
"But I've already done advanced work with Vector. And though I do have some interesting ideas for a proposal in Arithmancy, I think it's better to go in another direction--to show I can work just as well in another subject. It's not a good idea to specialize too soon, and I've had a couple of great ideas for projects in Charms and Potions, and while Flitwick was excited when I spoke to him, I don't know if Snape will agree…"
"SNAPE?!" Ron couldn't contain himself any longer. "This is Snape we're talking about! Why the hell would you want to work for a whole year with Snape on some stupid, bloody honors project?! Do you really think he'd want to work with you, anyway? He hates us! And it's not like…"
Hermione stood up suddenly, face red with anger. She glared at Ron and then, blinking tears from her eyes, ran to the girls' dormitory. Ron looked at Harry, the anger leaving his face, and then turned to look at the door through which she had left. After a moment, he quietly sat down.
"That probably wasn't the best thing you could have said," Harry noted softly.
Ron knocked Hermione's Advanced Potions textbook to the floor. "Bloody Snape," he muttered.