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Sweets and Studies

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CHAPTER ONE:

On the morning of September the first, King's Cross Station could be found full to the bursting with people bustling about, wheeling trolleys, trunks and travel cases, some chattering, some lost, and some focused on reaching their platforms in time.

Or, in the case of Hermione Jean Granger, reaching their platforms with plenty of time to spare.

"Just how early is too early?" Her Uncle, Arran Macleod, wondered aloud, looking up at the large clock which read just past eight-thirty.

The Hogwarts Express wasn't due to leave until eleven.

Hermione blushed, which made her Aunt, Iona Macleod, chuckle as they found seats within view of the big plastic nine and ten marking the two train platforms, between which Hermione knew the secret Platform Nine and Three Quarters was hidden.

"You really don't have to wait with me," Hermione said as Uncle Arran carefully parked the trolley with her trunk and a cage containing a beautiful owl with feathers a light amber brown that caught the light in a way that seemed to turn them a brilliant gold out of the way of the busy commuters.

"Of course we'll wait, we're not going to see you again until Christmas!" Aunt Iona said firmly, and Hermione ducked her chin to hide the reddening of her cheeks and her shy, pleased smile.

Even though Hermione had explained muggles couldn't get through the barrier onto Platform Nine and Three Quarters to see the train take off, her aunt and uncle had insisted that they be at Kings Cross Station to send her off on her first day at Hogwarts. The symbolism of the gesture was what was important, Aunt Iona had insisted, before proceeding to ignore any protestations about time and money from that moment onwards. Privately, Hermione was delighted by their presence, even if she felt like she was putting them out of their way.

"I'm going to miss all of you," she said, and her aunt laughed.

"Oh, nonsense!" she declared. "You'll be having far too much fun to spare even a second to be missing us! Besides," suddenly Aunt Iona's smile looked a lot less friendly, "I've been meaning to pay my sister a visit for some time now, and have a little chat with "

Hermione would feel a lot sorrier for her mother if she didn't think that Helen Granger probably deserved whatever Iona Macleod was about to dish out to her. And she was too excited today about finally setting off to Hogwarts to think about her parents, who really ought to have been the ones sending her off– she would much rather it was Aunt Iona and Uncle Arran anyway.

As her uncle had pointed out, they had plenty of time to spare after arriving at King's Cross Station, but Hermione had been too anxious to wait around the small hotel they'd spent the previous night at, after making the nearly seven and a half hour train trip from Aberdeen, Scotland, to King's Cross Station the previous day. At least she had been well prepared for the wait– as well as for her train ride ahead– and had packed plenty of books to read. Her aunt and uncle ended borrowing books from her too, and she was delighted with their interest in the magical world; Uncle Arran had selected 'A Traveller's Guide to Magical Europe', while Aunt Iona picked 'The Wizarding Way: Magical Solutions to Everyday Problems'. Hermione herself chose to continue her careful translation of Sylvianne Slytherin and her husband, Turlough Gaunt's, healer's treatise, which she was painstakingly copying in ordinary English into a notebook.

At nine forty-five, she started to notice a trickle of families arriving wheeling trolleys containing trunks on top of which were balanced cages with unhappy owls, and wicker baskets from which yowling cats could be faintly overheard. As she watched, eager and curious, these families disappeared, one after the other, through the barrier between Platform Nine and Platform Ten, vanishing without a trace.

"How does nobody notice?" Her astonished aunt asked.

"Maybe it's how the magic works?" Hermione suggested, fascinated. "If you already know about it, then it's not hidden from you?"

"Can magic work like that?" her uncle asked, sounding very fascinated.

"I'll ask Professor McGonagall when I get the chance," Hermione promised. "And I'll write to you with the answers."

"And your... owl will bring us your letters," her uncle said, peering over at said 'owl', who fluffed her feathers agitatedly.

'I look hideous, don't I? Loki-god made me look hideous– I don't suit such proportions, and this shade of gold just does not suit me,' Vashti fretted, hopping from foot to foot on her perch within the dome-shaped cage. 'This was a terrible idea, I should have just gone as the canary! Oh, change me back, change me back!'

Loki had disguised the young phoenix as an owl several days ago for Hermione, as Hogwarts only allowed students to bring owls, toads or cats as pets, and phoenixes were considered extremely rare– standing out didn't seem like a sensible choice, in Hermione's opinion. Vashti, after a lot of coaxing, considering how vain her beloved soul-sister was, had taken a lot of convincing– and the young phoenix had not been shy about how unhappy she was about being disguised as an owl, of all avians. Hermione's family was still confused about how her pet canary had turned into an owl, and they were even more confused about how owl post worked, but they were doing their best to just go where the tides took them, to use one of Uncle Arran's favourite phrases– something which Vashti should really try. 

'If you go as a canary, one of the owls or cats might try to eat you,' Hermione pointed out sensibly, to which Vashti responded to by projecting an image of a burst of fire and the smell of burning feathers and Hermione had to bite her lip to stop from laughing out loud.

"Yes, Vashti will deliver my post, and if you give her any letters or packages, she can deliver them to me," she confirmed out loud for her Uncle Arran.

'If I don't die of humiliation first!' Vashti added sulkily. 'Or set the owlery on fire.' 

...actually, that was a very valid concern, for when Vashti inevitably lost her temper at one (or several... or most... or all) of the owls in the owlery. 

'Maybe it's best if you stay with me in the dormitories,' she suggested. 

The sudden tolling of the large clock tower startled Hermione from the mental conversation, and she glanced up to see it was now ten o'clock– the time that her fellow first year muggleborns had agreed to meet on Platform Nine and Three Quarters, to make sure they'd find a compartment on the Hogwarts Express with plenty of time to spare.

"Is it time already?" Aunt Iona asked, and when Hermione nodded reluctantly, her aunt chuckled at her.

"Oh, love, don't look so miserable– you're going to have a grand old time at this magic school of yours, and you won't even remember to miss us, or to be nervous."

"Not possible," Hermione argued.

"More than possible," her aunt countered, pulling her into a hug. Hermione happily melted into her aunt's arms, hugging her just as tightly, before moving over to hug her uncle too. Uncle Arran then double-checked her trolley, making sure everything was properly attached, and then, after one last big family hug, it was time.

Taking a deep breath, Hermione aimed her trolley for the barrier between platforms nine and ten.

'Are you sure you know how to do this right?' Vashti asked, sounding nervous. 'Because if you do it wrong, sister-of-my-soul, I'm going to hit the bricks first.'

'I know how to do it, heart-of-mine,' Hermione reassured her. 'Most likely, anyway.'

'Most likely, or most definitely?' Vashti asked nervously.

'Only one way to find out!' Hermione sent cheerfully, before breaking out into a jog as the barrier loomed.

'HERMIONE!' Vashti screeched, panicked and indignant, and Hermione closed her eyes, half expecting to crash... only she didn't. And when she opened her eyes, she found herself facing a scarlet steam engine next to a platform packed with people. A sign overhead said Hogwarts' Express, eleven o'clock, and above her was a wrought-iron archway where the barrier had been, with the words Platform Nine and Three-Quarters on it.

Hermione's attention wasn't focused on any of that, though. She wasn't even focused on calming down her ranting phoenix, who was sending waves of indignation over their link. Instead, her wide, shocked eyes were fixed on the grinning, entirely unexpected figure who was lounged against the side of the scarlet steam engine, waiting for her.

"Loki," Hermione breathed, and, as if he'd somehow heard her over the din of students, parents, and assorted animals, her god straightened up and started walking over to her, the crowd automatically, unconsciously parting for him; she doubted they even noticed it happening.

Hermione managed to wait until Loki was only a few feet away before she abandoned the handles of her trolley in order to leap into his arms. He caught her with a bright, merry laugh, spinning her around so her curls flung about chaotically around them, her skirts flaring. She'd left her hair mostly free for the occasion, a cascade of curls springing every which way with a life of their own, except for a small crown of braids with colourful flowers and golden bells intertwined. Her soft green sundress had golden needlework on the bodice, neckline and sleeves of flowering vines and a long, flowing skirt that hid the laced up brown steel-soled boots she wore underneath.

"You came!" she said breathlessly, when Loki finally stopped spinning, setting her back down on her feet but keeping a hold of her shoulders, supporting her as she swayed slightly, dizzy.

"Of course I did," her god said, as if it could never have been in doubt that he would. And, Hermione thought, there really shouldn't be. Because her god was a lot of things, and not all of them good, but if there was one thing he'd always been, it was there for her when it really mattered most.

Hermione wasn't naïve enough to think that her god was all sunshine and rainbows and lollipops– actually, he consumed enough sugar and sweets that he could almost be all lollipops, but that was beside the point. Hermione was almost certain that Loki loved her, and she knew that she loved him with all her heart– he was, quite literally, her god. But she didn't worship him blindly; she knew that her god could be cruel and petty and possessive, and she'd heard stories about him from Hati and Váli, and even from Loki himself, when he slipped up; she knew that he hadn't always been like he was now, and that sometimes the just desserts he served up to the arseholes out there were sickeningly horrific enough that it made her stomach turn to think about. 

There was an awful lot of power and rage and grief tangled up inside her god, she knew, but Hermione didn't think any less of him for the times when it inevitably came exploding out, or for the days when he was crueller, sharper; his edges rougher, harsher. She just made sure she was there for him, after he'd finished taking it all out on whatever poor fool got on the wrong side of the wrong trickster on the wrong day, or the little corner of the world he'd vanished off to and likely flattened.

Like she said, an awful lot of power– more than she thought he even realised she'd noticed (though it was hard to overlook the amount of power it must take to travel one thousand years into the past).

Worse were the times when he touched her like she was made of glass, like if he even looked at her wrong she'd either shatter into pieces or run screaming from him. It made her heart hurt to see him like that, and she'd always pull him into a hug during those times, resting her head on his lap and guiding his hand to her hair so he could run his fingers through her curls until the lost, drifting look disappeared and her god seemed grounded in his own body again.

But like she said, she didn't care what Loki could be like, or the faces he wore, the personas he slipped into; because when it had mattered the most, whenever she'd needed someone, even when she hadn't known she'd needed someone, Loki had always been there for her. He'd always had her back. And he'd always have her faith, her worship, and her love, because of it.

And that was why she felt so conflicted about going to Hogwarts, despite all her excitement.

She'd been looking forward to going to Hogwarts since the first time she'd read 'Hogwarts: A History', back when she was seven years old and Loki had first left the book beside the altar she'd built for him. Going back in time, meeting the Founders, befriending Sylvianne Slytherin and Helena Ravenclaw, and exploring the castle with them had only fuelled that excitement, and Hermione hadn't thought anything could possibly ruin her growing anticipation for her first year at the school for witchcraft and wizardry, not until Loki had revealed the crushing truth to her– Hogwarts was warded against pagan gods.

It was the first time Hermione had ever felt truly torn between her faith and something else, something she'd been looking forward to for so long. The conflict warring inside her had been awful, and she'd felt sick to her stomach. She'd chosen Loki, of course, declaring that she'd attend Beauxbatons instead, but Loki, knowing how much it meant to her, had insisted that she attend Hogwarts. She had given in, eventually, agreeing to attend Hogwarts, but... she couldn't help but wonder now if she'd made the right choice in doing so. Because it felt like she'd chosen herself over her god, placing her own needs over his, and that just felt wrong.

"Why the long face, kitten?" Loki teased her, tugging on one of her curls to draw her back to the present moment.

"Just thinking how long it's going to be until I see you again," Hermione answered him, which wasn't exactly a lie– she wasn't a priestess of Loki Silvertongue for nothing– it just... wasn't the entire truth. Not exactly.

Loki arched a golden-brown eyebrow. "Are you that confident you're going to lose our bet?" he teased her, with a playful smirk.

"No," she huffed, crossing her arms, because that was a bet she was determined not to lose– Loki had challenged her to find a way to sneak out of the school grounds, beyond the wards keeping him out. If she managed before Christmas, he was going to teach her how to use her magic to fly. If she didn't, she was going to have to try out for her House's quidditch team– and Hermione loathed team sports.

"Then you shouldn't be sad at all, we'll be seeing each other in no time," her god said confidently, "and you can write to me in the meantime, to let me know how you're crushing everybody else in all your classes, and, of course, to tell me about all the pranks you're pulling and the chaos you're causing– basically, you can write to me about how you're making Hogwarts your bitch." Hermione couldn't help but laugh at that, leaning back into Loki's arms.

She loved how safe she felt there, how his hug was unlike anyone else's in the entire world; the heat that poured off Loki was hotter than fire, but without the painful burn, and where his bare skin touched hers, there was a static tingle, like a hint of electricity against her skin. She could never mistake his presence for somebody ordinary, for someone who was human, and it astonished her that the people milling about around them possibly could.

"I'm really going to miss you," she whispered into his chest, and his arms tightened around her, his chest dipping under her cheek as he exhaled, long and slow.

"Me too, kitten," he murmured, barely audible over the din around them, "me too."

"Hermione!"

The call of her name startled her, and Hermione straightened up slightly, looking around for the person responsible. It was Justin Finch-Fletchley, one of the muggleborns she'd met during the orientation tour. He was standing with Fay Dunbar and Kevin Entwhistle, under the Platform Nine and Three Quarters sign, and waving at her. Hermione waved back at them, letting them know she'd seen them, before turning back up at Loki.

He looked as resigned as she imagined her expression must look. "I guess it's time to say goodbye," he said, even as he kept his arms wrapped tight around her, and hers around him.

"I guess," she said reluctantly, leaning back in so her head was resting against his chest. Her eyes felt wet and she sniffed, blinking back the tears. "I love you, Loki," she whispered, and Loki went very, very still, before releasing her suddenly and stepping back, dislodging her arms.

For a brief, terrifying moment, Hermione thought she'd scared him away, that he was about to leave, but instead he crouched down so they were at the same eye-level, and he gently took her face between his hands. "Olani hoath ol*, Hermione," he murmured, the language strange and unrecognisable to her ears, both lyrical and harsh, and yet oddly beautiful, before leaning forwards to kiss her forehead. "I love you too, my priestess."

And then, he vanished.

Hermione, not sure whether to laugh or cry, did both, smiling even as she sniffed and wiped away her tears, before pulling her trunk over to where the other muggleborns were waiting. Sally-Anne Perks had joined Fay, Kevin and Justin while she and Loki were saying goodbye, and after trading greetings the five of them waited together for Dean Thomas, talking together about how they'd spent their week preparing for Hogwarts. 

"I've read all our textbooks, of course," Justin said.

"Oh yes, of course," Hermione agreed. Fay, Sally-Anne and Kevin all exchanged looks, almost as if they hadn't read the books, though Hermione couldn't imagine why they wouldn't have tried to be as prepared as possible. It seemed as if Fay, Sally-Anne and Kevin had focused their attention elsewhere, though.

"Has anyone tried any magic yet?" Sally-Anne asked, in a hushed whisper.

"I did," Fay said, excitedly. "I'll show you on the train– I found a beginner's charm in my textbook, it's called 'lumos' and it basically turns your wand into a torch!"

"Wicked!" Kevin said, as Sally-Anne ooh-ed.

...oh dear, Hermione thought, mildly alarmed, as the others chatted excitedly over Fay's successful charm. If this was the standard of magic that first years were expected to perform in charms, she had a feeling that first year might be quite dull.

Dean arrived at exactly twenty to eleven, despite the agreed upon meeting time of ten, looking out of breath and slightly dishevelled. "I lost my ticket and forgot which number the platform was," was his sheepish explanation, when an exasperated Fay asked why he was so late. It turned out he'd spent the last half an hour running into walls, hoping he'd find the right one.

Hermione... honestly didn't know what to say about that. She was honestly just shocked it had worked. "So was mum, going by the look on her face when I fell through the barrier!" Dean laughed, as Hermione voiced this thought out loud.

All of them having now arrived, they hoisted their trunks up onto the train with the aid of a pair of helpful older students wearing yellow-and-black striped ties. About two thirds of the train's compartments were already full, but they pressed on through the crowds until they found an empty compartment where they tucked their trunks away under the seats and sat down. While Sally-Anne and Justin kept their owls in their cages which they placed carefully on empty seats, Hermione immediately opened the cage Vashti was in to let the currently-disguised-phoenix out.

"It's not going to fly around the compartment, is it?" Kevin asked nervously.

'It!' Vashti exclaimed indignantly, snapping her beak in anger.

"She'll behave," Hermione promised, lifting Vashti up onto her shoulder, where Vashti pointedly turned her back to the rest of the compartment, ruffling her feathers unhappily.

'Calling me 'it'– he'll be lucky if I don't set his trunk on fire!' she said angrily. 'Or him!'

'Boys can be stupid, heart-sister-of-mine,' Hermine soothed, reaching up to gently tickle Vashti's claws, 'just ignore him, and be satisfied with the fact he's scared stiff of you.'

'...he is?' Vashti perked up, turned her head almost one hundred and eighty degrees without moving the rest of her body to stare, eyes wide and unblinking, at Kevin, who looked like a might wet himself. Hermione very carefully pretended to be looking out the window, at a large family of redheads, two of which who were helping a small dark-haired boy lift his trunk onto the train, instead. 'Oh, he is afraid!' Vashti sounded quite delighted, sending a wave of mischievous glee through their link.

'Don't be mean to him,' Hermione scolded, amused. 'He can't help finding you terrifying.'

Vashti just sent back an impression of Loki's best evil cackle, while she started turning her head upside down in an incredibly unsettling manner, still not looking away from poor Kevin, and still not blinking. Hermione decided some battles were best left unfought and left her to it, focusing back on the conversation happening out loud.

"I can't believe it's almost time," Fay was saying excitedly, bouncing up and down on her seat. "This is so exciting!"

"I actually feel a little sick," Sally-Anne confessed, and she did look a touch pale. "It feels like it was just yesterday that Professor McGonagall was knocking on my front door to tell me that I was a witch."

"Were your parents quite shocked?" Fay asked. "Mine knew I was different, but they thought I might be a like one of those American comic book characters– you know, the ones with superpowers. Apparently I used to make my toys float when I was throwing tantrums. They never thought I might be a witch!"

"It came as quite the surprise to my family," Justin said, a bit pompously, "my name was down for Eton, you know, and I don't really remember ever doing anything out of the ordinary growing up. So when Professor McGonagall knocked on our door, we honestly thought she had the wrong house. My mother kept asking her if she was sure that I was a wizard, and if there was some kind of test I could do, just in case."

"Well my parents are Catholic," Sally-Anne admitted, "so they didn't take the news that their daughter was a witch well, as you can imagine. It took Professor McGonagall a long time to convince them that I wasn't going to go to Hell."

The others in the compartment winced. "That's tough," Dean said sympathetically. "My mum and step-dad were pretty good about it all. They've always said it's a miracle that I don't end up with more broken bones then I do, with all the accidents I get into. Well, it turns out it's not a miracle at all, it's magic!"

"My parents were okay about it," Kevin said nervously, his gaze still flicking between the group and Vashti. "They weren't that happy I wouldn't be getting my GCSEs though."

"Mine either," Dean agreed, and the others nodded.

"Hermione's already got hers, though," Fay said, turning expectantly towards her. "So what did your parents think about you being a witch?"

Hermione was saved from having to answer that awkward question by the train's whistle. Everyone forgot Fay's question immediately, excitement shining bright on their faces, and they all seemed to be holding their breath as the finally train started to move, houses flashing past the window as it gathered speed and they were off– off to Hogwarts at last!

::

*According to google"Olani hoath ol"means "I love you" in Enochian <3

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TWO:

The houses outside the train's windows quickly gave away to lanes and fields as the Hogwarts Express swiftly left London and their old lives behind them, taking them onward to their brand new adventure.

It was Fay who suggested they change into their school robes, and they all agreed with her, excited to feel like 'real' Hogwarts students. The boys changed first, while the girls waited outside in the corridor, before trading places so the girls could change.

Hermione startled the other two girls slightly with her lack of awkwardness as she simply slipped out of her dress, unashamed of her body, but she'd learned a great deal of body confidence since her time in Henningsvær. She was strong and tanned from her time under the sun, with muscle definition that most children lacked from her training with Váli and Hati, and she was confident in herself, and in what her body was capable of.

She was also armed wherever she went, though she doubted that Fay and Sally-Anne had any idea that the black straps around her thighs were actually sheaths for a pair of throwing knives, or that hidden under the singlet she was wearing was another sheath, this one to strap her favourite pair of karambit daggers against the small of her back.

She'd had to make a few alterations to the Hogwarts uniform to allow her ease of access to her weapons, including subtle slits in her shirt, skirts and cloaks so that her blades were accessible, while making sure that the slits weren't obvious. Thankfully Eris, the Greek goddess of Strife and Discord, had been happy to get Hermione into contact with her tailor, one of Arachne's descendants, who excelled in such modifications. Mister Metaxas had done a wonderful job and Hermione was very pleased with the results.

After they'd all changed into their robes, Fay brought out her wand to show the compartment her lumos charm. It wasn't long until Sally-Anne, Kevin, Justin, and Dean were pulling out their wands to try the charm too, all eager to learn their first magic spell. Hermione, having long-since mastered a wandless, wordless version of the lumos charm, faked about a minute or two of trying before achieving the charm, then returned to her translation work.

Fay, seeming annoyed that Hermione had mastered the charm so quickly, looked away from her 'students' and took a moment to comment on Hermione's jewellery, 'complimenting' it in a backhanded sort of way. "I thought you'd be more the type to follow the rules to the letter," she said, gesturing to Hermione's wrists, "but I can see why you're keeping them on, they're pretty."  

"Thank you," Hermione said, beaming at Fay as if she thought the other girl had genuinely complimented her, knowing from experience that it often just annoyed people more. And besides, she was genuinely proud of her bracelets and refused to be ashamed of them.

The one on her left wrist was the first gift her god had given her, after Loki saved her from drowning; it was a knotted braid of leather, silver thread and golden feathers, in an Ancient Norse design. She loved it, and had rarely taken it off for more then a minute or two while changing since she'd first been given it.

On her right wrist she wore a charm bracelet given to her by her god for her birthday the previous year. It was beautiful; crafted of gracefully interlocking links of silver and gold, with charms that were a clever mix of pretty, practical and playful, including runes, such as kuanaz, sowilo, and hagalaz, and protection runes in Enochian that Loki told her were some of the most powerful protection runes against demon-witches and demons, celtic charms, a devil's trap, a shark tooth, a lily for remembrance, a bell, and a small Loch Ness Monster. Some of the charms were gold, some silver, others iron, and some made of a brilliant silvery-blueish metal that shivered with power– basically, it was beautiful and functional, filled with memories and mementos, and she wore it everywhere she went.

Fay, seeing Hermione was unperturbed by her comment, just smiled back before returning to instructing the other first years. It only took about fifteen minutes for everyone in the compartment to master the lumos charm, and from there, everybody seemed to split off into pairs. Fay and Sally-Anne were happy to chat together, as were Dean and Kevin. Justin was quick to become deeply absorbed in his copy of 'Numerology and Grammatica', not that she blamed him, it was a fascinating read, and Hermione had no issue with continuing with her translating work, though it would have been nice to chat some more, or meet some new faces.

At about a quarter past twelve, there was a great clattering outside in the corridor and a smiling, dimpled woman slid back their door to ask, "Anything off the cart, dears?"

Curious, all six of them filed out into the corridor to see what sort of magical sweets were available – and they were not disappointed by the selection they found! The woman's cart was stacked high with Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, Drooble's Best Blowing Gum, Chocolate Frogs, Pumpkin Pasties, Cauldron Cakes, Licorice Wands, and a number of other strange but delicious concoctions that Hermione knew Loki would love. She had a pocketful of leftover galleons from the trip to Diagon Alley, when Loki had 'accidentally' converted far too many pounds into wizarding money and insisted she kept the change, and she ended up buying a stack of sweets for her compartment to share, as well as some to send back to Loki.

The six of them had great fun, working their way through the stack of sweets, exploring the different flavours of pasties, cakes and candies. Vashti adored her ice mice, hoarding her collection and threatening to peck anyone who tried to get close. Nobody dared.

Hermione's personal favourites of the sweets were the Chocolate Frogs, though she was probably biased because the card inside the first Chocolate Frog she unwrapped was the Lady Morgana, with her dark curls, clever eyes and secret smile. She also managed to trade Paracelsus to Justin in return for Merlin, who winked up at her with his bright blue eyes, and she beamed back down at the tiny portrait, clutching both cards tight, unable to help but feel it was a good omen for the school year ahead.

After all of them had filled up on the sweets, they returned to their previous activities. Outside, the countryside flying past the window was becoming wilder. The neat fields had long gone, replaced by woods, twisting rivers, and dark green hills.

Hermione was translating a balm for reducing swelling into her notebook when there was a knock on the door of their compartment and a round-faced boy came in. He looked tearful.

"Sorry," he sniffed, "but have you seen a toad at all?"

Kevin immediately yanked his feet up from the floor, looking horrified.

'I don't think there's a toad in here,' Vashti said, peering around curiously.

Hermione repeated that out loud for the boy, who sniffed again, wiping quickly under his eyes.

"S-Sorry for interrupting you," he mumbled, turning to leave.

"Wait!" Hermione said, jumping to her feet. Her sudden movement startled Vashti, whose flapping her wings made Kevin yelp, his hands flying up to cover his face as he flinched back. "Sorry, sorry," she apologised, lifting Vashti up from the back of the seat and onto her shoulder, before turning back to the boy. "Would you like some help searching?" she offered.

"Yes please!" the boy said, looking relieved, and Hermione followed him out of the compartment, into the corridor.

"I'm Hermione Granger," she introduced herself, "and this is Vashti."

"She's lovely," the boy said shyly, which made Vashti preen. "I'm Neville Longbottom. And my toad's name is Trevor." Neville's lip trembled slightly. "He keeps getting away from me. I don't know why. I've been taking such good care of him, I swear!"

"I believe you," Hermione reassured him, "and we'll find him, don't worry!"

Giving Neville an encouraging look, she rapped her knuckles on the door next to the compartment she'd been in, before opening the door. There were two boys sitting in the compartment, amidst a small mountain of empty sweet wrappers. Both looked up as she walked in, Neville trailing after her.

"Has anyone seen a toad? Neville's lost one," she asked brightly.

"We've already told him we haven't seen it," said the gangly boy with red hair and freckles, and, annoyed at the boy's lack of sensitivity, Hermione turned her focus to the wand in his hand, currently pointed at a snoozing rat, and smiled sweetly at him.

"Oh, are you doing magic?" she said, faux-brightly, "Let's see it, then."

She sat down, still smiling ever-so sweetly. The boy looked taken aback.

"Er– all right."

He cleared his throat.

"Sunshine, daisies, butter mellow,
Turn this stupid, fat rat yellow!"

He waved his wand, but nothing happened. The rat stayed grey and fast asleep. Oh dear. Now she almost felt bad for him.

"Hm," she said, wondering how best to word this. "Where was it exactly that you learned that spell?"

"Er, from one of my brothers." The red-haired boy said.

"Well, I hate to say it, but I think your brother was pranking you," Hermione told him, and the boy's cheeks went red.

"Probably," he mumbled.

"Why don't you try 'Mutatio flavus' instead?" She suggested, demonstrating the wand movements for him. Rowena had taught them the colour-change charm, back at Hogwarts, and considering Gerda and Greta, both younger then her at the time, had been in the class, she assumed it wasn't too complicated.

"Um," the boy blinked, before shrugging. "May as well, I s'pose."

"Make sure you really envision the exact shade of yellow you want him to turn," she encouraged, as the boy cleared his throat.

"Er, mutatio flavus!"

The rat woke up suddenly, letting out a loud, alarmed squeak as, with a burst of yellow smoke, its fur turned a rich, flaxen gold.

"Wicked!" the other boy, the dark-haired one with bright green eyes and broken, taped-together glasses, said looking quite enthusiastic, as the red-haired boy looked mostly surprised by his success. "Do you know any other spells?" Hermione blushed at the attention she was getting now from all three of the boys.

"A few. I've read all the textbooks we were assigned," she admitted.

"Blimey," the boy with the rat now looked a bit pale. "Were we supposed to do that?"

"I haven't," Neville seemed quite terrified.

"I haven't either," the dark-haired boy said, worried.

"I think most people haven't, though I really would advise reading at least the first chapter of each of your textbooks before the class," Hermione sighed, before getting back up to resume the search for Neville's toad. "Oh, I'm Hermione, by the way," she said, pausing in the doorway to introduce herself. "Hermione Granger."

"And I'm Neville Longbottom," Neville added, with a shy smile.

"Er, Ron Weasley," the redhead said, with a small but genuine grin. "Thanks for the spell– I reckon Scabbers looks much better now." He said, holding up the golden-furred rat.

Hermione laughed. "No problem!" she said, "and you did the work, I just provided the spell."

Ron looked quite pleased to hear this.

Hermione turned her gaze to the other boy, who shifted slightly in his seat. "Um, I'm Harry Potter," he said, a bit reluctantly.

"Oh, are you really?" she said, already pitying the poor boy. "Do you know you're in Modern Magical History and The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts and Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century. "

"I am?" Harry Potter looked quite alarmed by this.

"Oh it's all rubbish, of course, there's not a single reputable primary or secondary source listed and their citations are rubbish," she said dismissively, "but you should be prepared for a lot of people to have a very specific image in their heads of who you are."

"Oh," Harry said, looking a bit ill. "Um, thanks for the warning."

"Why are you standing in the doorway?" somebody demanded loudly. Neville let out an alarmed sound and Hermione turned away from the open compartment to come face-to-face with a boy about their age. He had pale blond hair and a pointed face, and he was flanked by a pair of heavyset boys, also about their age with a thuggish look about them.

"Just searching for a lost toad," she said, assuming a purposeful cheerful air in the face of the blond's annoyance, mostly because she knew it would only annoy him more. "You haven't seen one, have you?"

"No I certainly have not," the blond said, looking disgusted. "And you're blocking corridor."

"Oh, our bad," Hermione said, still cheerful, "come on, Nev. Bye guys," she waved at Harry and Ron, before reaching over to close the compartment door with a neat snap and walking on, tugging Neville after her and leaving the blond and two larger boys behind.

'I wish to fly above the train, sister-of-my-soul,' Vashti informed her, 'I've had enough of all these small, irritating children.'

'All of these small, irritating children are technically older then you,' Hermione pointed out, smiling as Vashti huffed before taking flight, soaring down the narrow corridor and out of sight. 'Stay in sight of the train, dearest-heart!'

'You have my word, sister-mine!' Vashti sent back.

"Is she okay?" Neville asked nervously.

"Oh yes, she just needs some fresh air," Hermione reassured him. "Now, let's find your Trevor."

They spent the next ten minutes knocking on doors up and down the train without any luck before they ran into the blond again. He looked annoyed and was sitting in a compartment now, along with the two heavyset boys, with several other students about their age. This included three girls; one with long, dark hair going all the way down her back, one who was thickset and easily the tallest of all those in the compartment, and one with thick blonde curls, and two other boys; one with dark skin and jewel-bright eyes, and a thin, weedy-looking boy who sat slightly apart from the rest.

"Longbottom," sneered the blond. Neville shrank back beside her, and the blond's grey eyes turned towards Hermione. She found herself immediately disliking the smug superiority and disdain she saw there. "And you are?" the boy demanded.

"I'm Hermione Granger," she said, making sure to smile sweetly as she introduced herself, and she could immediately see the expressions of those within the compartment shift to disdain, dislike and disgust as they heard her surname.

"Really Longbottom," the blond said, an ugly sneer on his face, "everybody already knows you're basically a squib, you already bring such shame to your family's name, but now you're going around befriending her type?"

Watching Neville first shrink into himself at the blond's horrible words, only to steel his spine the moment the awful boy turned the verbal abuse against her instead, gaining the courage to step forwards and get between Hermione and the rest of the future first years, as if he was trying to protect her, made her heart warm. Hermione didn't need the protection, but seeing that Neville was willing to offer it anyway, well, it was very sweet– and it gave her the opportunity to wave her hand in the blond's direction and quietly whisper a spell that had been a favourite of Fleur's the previous school year from the big book of prank spells Loki had given her without been seen by the compartment's occupants.

"Come on Nev," she then said loudly, attracting the attention of the compartment, "I can only see one warty toad in here, and it's not your Trevor," she smiled at the compartment, still sugary-sweet and mocking, before turning and dragging Neville away and out, kicking the door shut behind them with her heel.

The shouting started moments later as the blond doubtlessly discovered the terrible affliction of warts he'd just been cursed with, and she smirked as Neville looked at her with open awe.

"That was...." He paused, searching for words before settling on, "brilliant!"

"Thank you," Hermione beamed back at him. "Honestly, closed minds really should come with closed mouths, don't you think?"

"Yes!" Neville blurted out, louder then he seemed to mean to, going by his blush.

The sound of the blond's shouting getting louder warned them of his approach and Hermione hastily knocked on the closest compartment door before pushing it open and rushing inside, dragging Neville after, and closing the door behind them. The blond went charging past without pausing a few moments later, still shouting for them.

"If you don't come back here right now, I'm getting a professor!" he was practically shrieking, and Hermione snickered, before turning to face the occupants of the compartment they'd just invaded.

There were three teenage boys lounging across the seats. Two of them were identical, maybe thirteen or fourteen, with the same flaming red hair and face full of freckles as Ron Weasley, as well as a pair of matching grins, and the other had dark skin, an impressive head of dreadlocks, and a cardboard box balanced on his knees.

"Hey firsties," one of the twins said, with a grin.

"Getting in trouble already?" the second twin asked, sounding amused.

"Oh no," Hermione assured them, blinking innocently over at them, "we were just minding our own business, looking for a lost pet. Any upset caused was entirely incidental, I swear." The twins and the boy with the dreadlocks didn't look like they believed her, but they also looked amused enough that they didn't care to push. "Anyway," Hermione continued on cheerfully, "speaking of lost pets, have any of you seen a toad? Nev's has gone walkabout."

"Aren't you the helpful little future 'Puff," the first twin said with a laugh. "And, why, you're in luck!"

"Because we have indeed seen a toad!" the other twin exclaimed.

"Our friend Lee here caught one, just five minutes ago," the first twin nodded, pointing to the box.

"And here we were, just wondering who it belonged to," the second twin said, as Lee held out the box in their direction.

"Trevor!" Neville exclaimed, going to rush forward. Hermione stopped him before he could, grabbing the back of his robes and arching a judgmental eyebrow at the three occupants of the compartment, Loki-style.

"Now, why don't I believe you?" she asked dryly, and the twins laughed, while Lee grinned.

"You're a brave little firstie, aren't you?" the second twin said, before nodding to the box, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. "Tell you what, if you both touch whatever's in the box, then we'll summon your lost toad for you."

Despite already knowing how to summon the toad, and having only refrained from doing so up until now because of how it would stand out as abnormal for a first year, the itch in her bones at the challenge set before her had Hermione immediately releasing her grip on Neville's robes to step forwards and accept the box from the grinning boy with dreadlocks. She blamed Loki entirely for her inability to turn down dares or bets– her god really could be a terrible influence.

"I'm Hermione Granger, by the way, and this is Neville Longbottom," she introduced them.

"Nice to meet you, Hermione Granger, and Neville Longbottom," the first twin said, still grinning mischievously, "I'm Fred, Fred Weasley, and this is George."

"Or maybe I'm Fred and that's George." The other twin interjected.

"Or maybe I'm Gred and that's Forge."

"Or maybe I'm Forge and that's Gred."

"Or maybe they're both idiots, and I'm Lee Jordan. Nice to meet you both, firsties." Lee said, rolling his eyes at his friends. Hermione, unable to help but laugh at their antics, opened the lid of the cardboard box, revealing the huge, hairy tarantula inside. Beside her, Neville let out a loud squeak of alarm.

"That is definitely not a toad," Hermione muttered, before swiftly reaching into the box to gently pick up the spider between its second and third pair of legs with her thumb and forefinger. Neville jerked back away from her as she lifted the spider from the box, rapidly paling.

"Hello, Itsy-Bitsy," Hermione cooed to the tarantula.

'Hello odd human- please don't squeeze me too hard,' the spider chittered back, startling her slightly– she hadn't realised the spider had been around enough magic to be intelligent.

"I promise I won't squeeze too hard. You're quite lovely, aren't you?" Hermione complimented the spider, who wriggled her legs happily. "Do you mind staying very still while my friend holds you on his palms?"

'As long as he doesn't drop me or throw me,' the tarantula agreed.

"Alright, Neville," Hermione said, making sure to keep her voice calm but firm, ignoring the fascinated looks she was getting from the other occupants of the compartment, "Itsy-Bitsy's not going to hurt you– just hold your hands out flat together, okay?"

Neville looked like he was about to be sick as he held up his trembling hands, and Hermione gently lowered the spider onto his cupped palms. The spider tucked herself up, curling her legs in, and Neville giggled, a bit nervously. "It tickles," he said.

"She does," Hermione agreed, with a laugh.

"...this isn't actually that scary at all," Neville decided, looking very surprised.

"You're a brave couple of firsties, aren't you?" Fred or George– for conveniences sake, Hermione decided to call him Fred, the opposite to the name he'd introduced himself as first– said, sounding approving.

"And you're a couple of arseholes, aren't you?" Hermione said sweetly, and Neville made a choking sound beside her. The twins and Lee both laughed.

"Maybe," George agreed, "but if you're not a pair of future Gryffindors, I'll eat my socks."

"That's disgusting," Hermione told him. "But going by your red-and-gold ties, I'm pretty sure you mean that as a compliment, so thank you."

"I don't know," Fred said musingly, "she's pretty snarky– we might have a snipey, sneaky, slippery Slytherin on our hands."

"That one I'm pretty sure is an insult, but I'm taking it as a compliment too," Hermione decided, and the twins both laughed again.

"Hey, what's your toad's name, Longbottom?" George asked, pulling out his wand as Neville, very, very carefully, lifted one of his thumbs to stroke along one of Itsy-Bitsy's front legs.

"His name's Trevor," Neville said eagerly.

"Accio, Trevor the Toad," George said, flicking his wand in the direction of the open compartment door. There were a few seconds of silence, and then a dark green-brown blur flew into the compartment, and into George's waiting hand.

"Trevor!" Neville exclaimed, almost dropping Itsy-Bitsy in his excitement. Hermione quickly relieved Neville of the tarantula so he could gratefully accept Trevor from George, scooping the toad into his hands and clutching him to his chest.

"Here," Hermione gently placed Itsy-Bitsy back in the cardboard box, tickling her back as she did so. "Take good care of her, won't you?" She said, giving Lee a stern look. "She's a living, breathing creature, not just some prop for you to prank people with."

"I will," Lee reassured her. "I have a cousin who breeds them, he'd kick my butt if he thought I was mistreating her."

"Good," Hermione said, with a sharp nod, and Lee grinned at her.

"Oh you're definitely a Gryffindor," he said, before looking at her thoughtfully. "Or were you just guessing when you said 'she'?"

"Isty-Bitsy's large and quite bulky, and her chelicerae, that is her jaw and fangs, are quite broad when considered in proportion to her body, and of course, she doesn't have the hooks on her front legs, or the bulbs on her pedipalps, so she's definitely female," Hermione answered, before blushing slightly at the looks she was getting. "One of my cousins went through a phase when he wanted a pet tarantula, so I read up about them." She explained.

"Ravenclaw." Fred, George and Lee all said at once.

"Definitely Ravenclaw." Lee added.

"Actually," Fred said, looking thoughtful, "I'm thinking Hat-stall."

"Two knuts on a five minute Hat-stall," Lee said instantly.

"Three knuts she makes six and a half minutes," Fred argued.

"Ha, you're both playing it safe," George scoffed, "four knuts she breaks the school record and ends up with a seven-minute Hat-stall."

"Any idea what House you both actually want to go in, firsties?" Fred asked. Neville immediately turned red, looking down at his feet and mumbling something about his gran, before turning desperate, pleading eyes in her direction. Hermione immediately got the hint.

"I don't actually have a particular preference," she admitted, "I'm studious, ambitious, hardworking, and according my best friend, I have a habit of running into danger to save people, though I maintain that's him projecting. So, Ravenclaw, Slytherin, Hufflepuff, or Gryffindor, I can see myself in any of them. After all, the Sorting only determines your strongest inclinations, rather then your only defining personality traits. Really, I'd just like to go wherever I can cause the most chaos while breaking the least amount of rules... or at least get caught breaking the least amount of rules, which is basically the same thing."

Loki did like to say it wasn't technically breaking the rules if she didn't get caught.

"And why would a little firstie like you be interested in causing so much chaos?" George asked, looking amused. Hermione smiled at him the way Hati taught her; sharp-toothed and distinctly wolfish as she lifted the hand with her charm bracelet, letting Loki's rune catch the light of the sun and gleam brilliant gold.

"Work it out," she suggested to him.

A voice suddenly echoed through the train: "We will be reaching Hogwarts in five minutes' time. Please leave your luggage on the train, it will be taken to the school separately. "

Hermione jolted. "Whoops," she said, "we better get Trevor back into his terrarium." Neville nodded hurriedly, and she turned to smile at the twins and Lee. "Thank you for your help," she said. "It was nice meeting you three."

"You know what," Fred (or George) said thoughtfully, "it was nice to meet you too."

Waving goodbye, they left the compartment, scanning the corridor for the blond before setting back off in the direction of the compartment where the other muggleborns were sitting.

"You're sounding quiet, Neville," Hermione noted as they walked.

"It's just... when they said we were a future pair of Gryffindors," Neville said quietly, clutching Trevor gently to his chest. "My... my parents were both in Gryffindor, and I'd like to be in Gryffindor, but... but I wasn't brave in there, not like you. I was really scared of Itsy-Bitsy at first, but you just picked her up straight away– you weren't afraid at all!"

"That doesn't make me braver than you, though," Hermione told him, surprised. "Quite the opposite, really!"

"The opposite?" Neville asked, looking confused.

"Doing something you're not scared of isn't brave, it just is," Hermione said, trying to find the words to explain. "It's like... for someone who isn't afraid of water, jumping into a lake to go swimming isn't brave, it's just jumping into a lake to go swimming. But if you're afraid of water, then jumping into a lake is really brave. You were the brave one back there, Neville, not me."

"...you really think so?" Neville asked, looking over at her shyly.

"Absolutely," Hermione said firmly. When they reached Hermione's compartment, they both paused, not wanting to separate. "Let me say a quick goodbye, then I'll join you," Hermione said, and Neville looked relieved. Only, when Hermione poked her inside the compartment, it was already empty; the other muggleborn first years had already joined the crowds of students throning the corridor. "Oh well," Hermione shrugged, honestly not upset.

She and Neville quickly found the compartment he'd been sitting in and Trevor hopped happily down into his terrarium, which was indeed well cared for and filled with beautifully-kept plants. Trevor jumped about with happy little splashes, letting out a 'home at last! Ribbit!' which was followed shortly by a '...where am I? Ribbit?' that had Hermione thinking that Neville's troubles with Trevor getting away had much less to do with the toad running away, and far more to do with a short-term memory problem leading to the poor toad getting constantly lost.

"Come on," Hermione said, holding her arm out to Neville, so they could link elbows before venturing back out into the corridors. Neville was a warm and solid presence next to her amidst the press of students and their linked arms kept them from being pulled apart in the excited crowd as the train slowed right down and finally stopped.

"Oh my Loki," Hermione whispered, under her breath, feeling the surge of excitement in her chest as the train stopped moving.

They'd officially arrived at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

::

Chapter Text

CHAPTER THREE:

With butterflies in her stomach and her arm still linked with Neville's to prevent them being pulled apart, Hermione joined the other students in making their way off the train, and out onto a small platform. It was dark outside, the low hanging half-moon barely providing enough light to see by.

A very large man with a big, hairy face holding a large lamp was calling for the first years, and Hermione and Neville made their way over to him, careful not to slip or trip in the crowded, dimly lit space. They had to follow the large man along a steep, narrow path, surrounded on either side by tall, thick trees, and Hermione honestly thought she was probably going to have bruises on her arm from Neville's tight grip, as she seemed to be the only thing keeping him upright as he slipped and stumbled along the path.

"Yeh'll get yer firs' sight o' Hogwarts in a sec," the large man called over his shoulder, "jus' round this bend here. "

There was a loud "Oooooh!" as they rounded the bend and Hermione felt her heart leap in her chest.

The narrow path had opened suddenly onto the edge of a great black lake, and perched atop a high mountain on the other side, its windows sparkling in the starry sky, was a familiar castle.

Hogwarts.

Tears sprang to her eyes, and Hermione had to surreptitiously wipe them away with her spare hand, still clutching tight to Neville with her other. Beside her, Neville looked emotional too.

"I wasn't sure I'd ever get to come here," he whispered so quietly that Hermione wasn't sure the words were even meant for her ears. She squeezed his hand in acknowledgement anyway, feeling as if her heart was overflowing with emotion.

"No more'n four to a boat!" the large man called out, pointing to a fleet of little boats sitting in the water by the shore.

Hermione looked around for some familiar faces to share the boat ride with. Kevin, Dean, Fay, and Sally-Anne were all sharing a boat already, but she spotted Ron Weasley and Harry Potter climbing into one of the boats together, and she hurried over to them with Neville before anyone else could climb in after them.

"Everyone in?" shouted the large man, who had a boat to himself. "Right then– FORWARD!"

And the fleet of little boats moved off all at once and they glided together across the lake, the surface of which remained smooth as glass until the fleet reached about halfway across to the cliff upon which Hogwarts stood.

The previously silent first years, who'd been staring captivated up at the castle, started to shout and scream as the surface rippled with movement, and Hermione gasped as large tentacles emerged from the lake, wrapping around the boat she, Neville, Harry and Ron were in, bringing the boat to a halt. At the large man's hasty shout of "STOP!" the rest of the fleet was similarly brought to an abrupt stop. Hermione barely paid attention to that, however– her focus was elsewhere.

"Bertramus?" She breathed, incredulous, as a great, unblinking eye rose from the depths. Ignoring how Neville, Ron, and Harry all seemed to be pressed as far back away from the giant squid as possible in the small boat, Hermione crawled forwards, reaching out with a trembling hand to stroke the slimy tentacle, tears welling up in her eyes as she recalled the times she'd spent with Helena and Sylvianne playing with Bertramus, throwing him fish, playing fetch with by levitating logs, splashing in the shallows of the lake and getting tangled in his tentacles... "I missed you too," she whispered, too quiet for the boys to overhear. "We'll speak later, okay?"

Bertramus gently nudged her with one of his tentacles before unwinding from the boat and sinking back beneath the surface of the lake, disappearing as suddenly as he'd appeared.

"Er, well, that don't usually happen," mumbled the large man, scratching his head and looking confused. "Er... FORWARD?"

And the fleet took off once more towards Hogwarts.

"What the bloody hell was that about?" Ron blurted out.

"I live with my aunt and uncle, and my uncle's a fisherman," Hermione said, with a casual shrug. "He probably smelled the fish, or the bait on me."

This seemed a good enough explanation for the boys, though Harry did keep giving her small, quick glances out of the corner of his eye. She wasn't quite sure why.

"Heads down!" the large man yelled suddenly as the first boats reached the cliff and Hermione hastily bent her head as their little boats carried them through the curtain of ivy hiding the wide opening in the cliff face. They were then carried along a dark tunnel, which seemed to take them right underneath the castle itself, until they reached a kind of underground harbor, where they clambered out onto rocks and pebbles. Hermione had to reach down to help Harry, Ron and Neville out, as none of them seemed to have any sort of balance on the rocking boat that her time on her uncle's fishing boat had given her.

Now back on solid land, the group of first years followed the large man along a passageway, coming out at last onto smooth, damp grass right in the shadow of the castle. Hermione could feel the magic of Hogwarts singing to them, the closer she got; it was beautiful, a joyful chiming of bells, a warm sense of welcome-welcome-welcome that cradled Hermione, cradled all of the new students. She gladly opened herself up to it, let the magic flow through her, fill her up, until she was very nearly floating from the sensation of it all.

Hermione was so distracted by the very literal magic of Hogwarts that she didn't even realise they'd moved inside the castle until Professor McGonagall, whose presence had escaped her entirely, started talking.

"Welcome to Hogwarts," the older witch welcomed them, and Hermione finally noticed that she was no longer under the stars, but instead standing in the entrance hall of the castle, still familiar to her as it was practically unchanged one thousand years on from the last time she'd stood in the very same place. "The start-of-term banquet will begin shortly," Professor McGonagall told them, "but before you take your seats in the Great Hall, you will be sorted into your houses. The Sorting is a very important ceremony because, while you are here, your house will be something like your family within Hogwarts. You will have classes with the rest of your house, sleep in your house dormitory, and spend free time in your house common room.

"The four houses are called Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. Each house has its own noble history and each has produced outstanding witches and wizards. While you are at Hogwarts, your triumphs will earn your house points, while any rule breaking will lose house points. At the end of the year, the house with the most points is awarded the house cup, a great honor. I hope each of you will be a credit to whichever house becomes yours.

"The Sorting Ceremony will take place in a few minutes in front of the rest of the school. I suggest you all smarten yourselves up as much as you can while you are waiting. "

Professor McGonagall's eyes lingered for a moment on Neville's cloak, which was fastened under his left ear, and on Ron Weasley's smudged nose. To the left of Hermione, Harry Potter nervously tried to fix his hair, and she jolted slightly when she saw in person, for the very first time, the rather infamous lightning-shaped scar– or rather, the sowilo shaped scar.

Seeing it, her hand went straight to her charm bracelet, to the sowilo rune that dangled there. During her lessons with the Lady Morgana, the High Priestess had taught Hermione how to scry. During her scrying, there had only been one image that had remained clear and consistent, and that image had been the rune sowilo. Sowilo represented both the sun and the triumph of the Light over the darkness, and Hermione had always assumed it was a reference to Loki.

Now, though, faced with the brief glimpse of jagged red lightning, a perfect mirror to the image she'd seen during her scrying, she wasn't so sure.

She barely heard Professor McGonagall's instructions to wait quietly until she returned, her thoughts were whirring so loudly, and her everyone else seemed similarly occupied– though for a different reason.

"How exactly do they sort us into houses?" Harry was asking Ron nervously.

"Some sort of test, I think," Ron answered him. "Fred said it hurts a lot, but I think he was joking."

"Don't worry," Hermione hastened to ease the panic she could see on both Harry and Neville's faces, though without giving away the secret of the Sorting Hat, "they're not going to be expecting us to perform magic, or anything like that. I expect it will be an aptitude test." Seeing the confused looks on the boys' faces, she quickly clarified, "a personality test."

"Oh," Ron said, his face clearing, "you mean, how they sort the evil gits into Slytherin." Here, he shot a scowl at somebody over Hermione's shoulder.

Hermione couldn't help her frown. "That's a bit cruel, don't you think?" she said. "And overgeneralising, to say that Slytherins are all 'evil'. An eleven-year-old isn't going to be evil, but they can be ambitious. I'm extremely ambitious– I could very easily end up in Slytherin, and I don't believe that makes me evil."

Ron flushed, ducking his head. Harry was frowning next to him. "Hagrid told me that there's not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn't in Slytherin," he said, and Hermione was horrified.

"That is an awful thing to say!" she exclaimed. "And any history book can tell you that it's blatantly untrue– why, Merlin himself was a Slytherin! Who is this 'Hagrid', anyway?"

"Um, he's the one who guided us from the train," Harry explained. "He helped me get my school stuff from Diagon Alley."

"If you needed the assistance of a staff member, why didn't you come along on the muggleborn orientation tour?" Hermione asked, confused by the inconsistency. "Professor McGonagall ran it, and all this year's muggleborns had a full orientation day with her, where we could ask questions and purchase our supplies."

"I... I don't know," Harry looked confused too, but before he could say anything else, they were interrupted.

"I see you haven't taken my advice, Potter!"

It was the blond from the train. He had a nasty look on his face, and Hermione was viciously gratified to see that he hadn't managed to get the warts removed since she'd last seen him. The boy saw her looking, and his scowl grew tenfold, even as he kept talking to Harry.

"You've already gone and made friends with a Weasley," here he sneered Ron's surname like it was a synonym for dung, "and now you're hanging about with a squib and a mudblood?"

Hermione hissed out a breath between her teeth, shocked by the nerve of the boy to use such a filthy slur. Around her, the other first years were responding with similar shock.

"Mind your tongue, boy!" A sharp, icy voice demanded, and Hermione jerked her head up as several people screamed.

About twenty ghosts had just streamed through the back wall. Pearly-white and slightly transparent, they glided across the room, milling weightlessly about. The one who had spoken was beautiful, with waist-length hair, and a haughty, proud look on her cold face. Hermione couldn't help the nagging feeling of familiarity, but the moment she met the ghost's icy gaze, she found herself dropping her eyes, uncomfortable.

"We do not accept that sort of language at Hogwarts, oh no we do not," a fat little monk was scolding the blond, wagging his finger at the boy whose cheeks had flushed pink.

"Now, now, children will be children," another ghost, this one with a head of pale curls and a sly smile, chided. "Let the boy be, Friar."

"Move along now," said a sharp voice. "The Sorting Ceremony is about to start. "

Professor McGonagall had returned. One by one, the ghosts floated away through the opposite wall. Last to leave was the proud lady, who lingered momentarily. Hermione was sure she wasn't imagining the way the ghost's cold eyes seemed to pause over her before the lady eventually moved gracefully onward.

"Now, form a line," Professor McGonagall told the first years, "and follow me. "

Hermione couldn't help but feel unsettled from the encounter with the blond, as she and the rest of the first years obeyed the instructions. She wouldn't say that she'd been expecting no discrimination against her blood status– she'd read all about the Blood War, after all, and Fleur had warned her, too. But to encounter such hate so early on in her Hogwarts experience, just for the fact she was born to muggle parents... it disturbed and upset her, more than she had expected it to.

Not even the magnificent sight of the Great Hall could pull her from the uneasy state she'd found herself in; all she could think was, out of the hundreds of faces staring at her, how many held her blood status against her? How many wished she didn't exist? How many hated her, simply for the fact that she was born?

It was only Professor McGonagall bringing out Cuthbert the Sorting Hat, looking much more ragged, patched and frayed then Hermione remembered him being when Godric whipped him off his head a thousand years ago, that pulled her out of her head, and back to the present. Professor McGonagall placed Cuthbert atop a four-legged stool and stood back. Intrigued, Hermione watched, wondering what was about to happen.

Cuthbert twitched. A rip near the brim opened wide like a mouth– and then Cuthbert began to sing:

"Oh, you may not think I'm pretty,
But don't judge on what you see,
I'll eat myself if you can find
A smarter hat than me.
You can keep your bowlers black,
Your top hats sleek and tall,
For I'm the Hogwarts Sorting Hat
And I can cap them all.
There's nothing hidden in your head
The Sorting Hat can't see,
So try me on and I will tell you
Where you ought to be.
You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve, and chivalry
Set Gryffindors apart;
You might belong in Hufflepuff,
Where they are just and loyal,
Those patient Hufflepuffs are true
And unafraid of toil;
Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,
If you've a ready mind,
Where those of wit and learning,
Will always find their kind;
Or perhaps in Slytherin
You'll make your real friends,
Those cunning folk use any means
To achieve their ends.
So put me on! Don't be afraid!
And don't get in a flap!
You're in safe hands
(though I have none)
For I'm a Thinking Cap!"

The whole hall burst into applause as Cuthbert finished its song. Hermione joined in, even though she couldn't help but think that Cuthbert had definitely spent far too much time exposed to Helena, because she didn't remember Rowena and Salazar charming it to sing, though she did remember quite well all that poetry that Helena had taught it.

Professor McGonagall now stepped forward holding a long roll of parchment.

"When I call your name, you will put on the hat and sit on the stool to be sorted," she explained. "Abbott, Hannah!"

Hermione waited with anxious butterflies in her stomach as Professor McGonagall started reading down her list. Thankfully, 'G' was near the start of the alphabet– Kevin and Justin both went before her, and were Sorted into Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff respectively– and she made sure to give a quick prayer to Loki, squeeze Neville's hand, and wish him, Ron and Harry all good luck before Professor McGonagall called out, "Granger, Hermione!"

Walking up to the Hat, she could feel the eyes of the Hall on her and wondered which sadist thought up the Sorting Ceremony. Really, it was an extremely intimidating way to introduce new students to the school! Still, Hermione made sure to walk with confidence, her chin high, eyes laughing and a bright, trickster's smile she'd learned from her god on her face as she stood straight and tall and proud; she remembered Mr Ollivander's words, after all– chaos does not bow.

Reaching the stool, she beamed up at Professor McGonagall, and the professor's answering smile was the last thing Hermione saw before the Hat dropped over her eyes, and then she heard Cuthbert's gasp.

"By my brim!" the Hat exclaimed. "Little Hulda Rikkardsdottir!"

"Hello Cuthbert!" Hermione greeted, beaming into the black cloth that had dropped to cover her entire face, down to her chin. "It's been a while!"

"Oh, I'm in all of a tizzy!" Cuthbert said in delight. "Hulda, our Hulda, at Hogwarts at last! Why, no wonder the old girl is so happy!"

"I've missed Hogwarts so much," Hermione told him, sniffing slightly she was so overcome by emotion. "Oh Cuthbert, I heard what happened to Helena and Sylvianne– it's just so awful!"

"Aye," Cuthbert agreed solemnly, and Hermione could feel how the Hat drooped sadly, "those were dark times, little Hulda, those were dark times indeed. My Creators divided not long after young Sylvianne was lost to us, and never again did we hear from Salazar."

"I'm so sorry, Cuthbert," Hermione told the Hat earnestly. "I swear, if I could have changed their fates, I would have!"

"Ah, but what is simply is," Cuthbert said, with surprising wisdom– or perhaps not; the Sorting Hat was, after all, a thousand years old. "Fate is not ours to meddle with– though there are lemon-drop addled fools out there who certainly try!"

"...that was oddly specific," Hermione observed with a small sniffle.

"Oh, you'll learn," the Hat said darkly. "You'll learn."

"You're really not doing much for my confidence here, Cuthbert," Hermione told it, giving the Hat a mental nudge. The Hat nudged her back, fond and joyful, and they both took a moment to simply bask in the gentle joy and shared grief brought forth by their reunion.

"We really should get on with my Sorting," Hermione remembered, hearing the sound of Professor McGonagall shifting in place.

"Oh dear," Cuthbert sounded surprised. "I forgot about that."

"Me too," Hermione admitted, before sighing. "I don't know, Cuthbert. The more I think about it, the more I agree with Helga. Sorting children into categories deciding who should or shouldn't be taught based on their personalities and aptitudes in life... do you really think it's the best thing to do?"

"I have done this job for centuries, little Hulda," the Sorting Hat said gravely, "and for centuries, I have watched history repeat itself; Houses turning on Houses, friendships being torn apart, wars breaking out... And I fear, little Hulda, oh yes I do fear, that history is once more destined to repeat itself. If the Houses do not unite, if the four pillars do not hold strong, then from within we will crumble."

Hermione shivered, the heavy words reverberating deep within her, to her very bones. "It just... it seems so wrong," she said, remembering the comradery between the Founders and their children, how they ate together, learned together, taught together, played together... how had that all turned to 'the evil gits' getting Sorted into Slytherin? "Rowena, Helga, Godric and... and even Salazar would be horrified," she said softly.

"They would," Cuthbert agreed. "But not since the Founders four were united in these halls have the Houses likewise been united. Instead, they stand divided."

They both took a solemn moment to reflect on Cuthbert's words, before the Hat spoke. "As reluctant as I am to do so, little Hulda," it said, "I must now fulfil my duty."

"Oh of course," Hermione agreed, carefully lowering her Occlumency shields, to allow Cuthbert into her mind.

Feeling the Sorting Hat's presence rifling through her memories was certainly odd; she wasn't a stranger to presences in her head. Not with her god, and Vashti, but Cuthbert felt nothing like either of them.

Loki's presence felt like a mess of concepts, of confused poetry, of prayers and the ephemerality of worship, a chaotic tangle of impressions that was pure Loki. Her god was the hot taste of blood on her tongue, the crackling of flames warming her skin, the sacrosanctity of sunlight streaming through stained glass, the warning hum of a thunderstorm in the air, and the searing heat-flash of lightning. In comparison, Vashti was softer, gentler; she was warm flames and pattering rain, golden sunlight streaming through green leaves, sweet songs, and haunting melodies.

The Sorting Hat was neither of those; the Sorting Hat was a tapestry of magic; ancient yet eternally young, the culmination of the wishes, hopes, dreams, and magic of two young witches and two young wizards, all spun together to create a single enchanted thoughtform, a bright, brilliant, colourful tapestry of magic woven into the fabric of the Sorting Hat.

"You're amazing," Hermione breathed, letting her magic reach out, soft and golden, to brush against the bright, colourful tapestry, so different from the patched, frayed, dirty old hat Cuthbert outwardly appeared to be.

"And you're going to be a tricky one to Sort," Cuthbert told her, sounding delighted by the challenge. "Hmm... cunning, ambitious and ruthless," the Hat mused as it rifled through her memories, Hermione experiencing brief flashes as it did. "Loyal, kind, and unafraid of hard work... clever, studious, and places enormous value on knowledge... and daring, chivalrous, and courageous, very courageous indeed. I quite agree with your earlier assessment, little Hulda– or Hermione, whichever you prefer– you would fit well in any of the Houses."

"Well," Hermione said thoughtfully, "if I get any sort of say in the matter, then I'd like to be placed where you think I can cause the most chaos, in honour of the one responsible for fostering each of those qualities in me."

"I believe you underestimate yourself," the Hat told her. "After all, you are the child who did her research, and who prayed at that altar you created, that fateful night."

Hermione found she had to blink back tears, hearing that. "Thank you," she said, and Cuthbert's mental presence gave her a gentle nudge, a bright burst of warmth behind her eyelids.

"I will still honour your request, however," the Hat decided. "And if you wish to cause the most Chaos, then I can only think of one House to Sort you in– better be SLYTHERIN!"

::

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FOUR:

When the Sorting Hat shouted "SLYTHERIN!" Severus dropped his fork.

Thankfully, it landed on his lap instead of on the table, so only Quirinus might have noticed if the stuttering fool hadn't been so distracted by the Sorting himself.

A muggleborn in Slytherin.

Minerva looked gobsmacked, like she was about to drop the list of first year names, and the girl, Granger, had to actually hand the Sorting Hat back to her, instead of Minerva taking it off her head.

The girl had already made Hogwarts history with her seven and a half minute hatstall, the longest ever recorded in the school's known history, but to be a muggleborn in Slytherin, and in this current political climate too... Severus turned grimly towards Albus, who looked just as concerned as he felt.

The girl in question didn't appear bothered by the shocked silence in the hall, particularly from her future House. She looked almost delighted by it, in fact, as if the shock and even horror of her future Housemates amused her. She even took it in her stride when the Weasley twins started applauding her, the only ones in the entire hall to do so, laughing and turning to curtsey in their direction with none of the self-consciousness he'd expect from most children before making her way confidently over to the Slytherin table.

She was an unusual child; he couldn't quite place his finger on what it was about her that made the hair on the back of his neck prickle, but as he watched her sit at his House table with enough grace and poise to make any pureblood's governess proud, he couldn't help but glance up at her crown of braids, arranged over the spill of chaotic curls tumbling down her back, then at her smile, all clever, bright and laughing, with just a flash of teeth, and he just knew she was going to be trouble.

::

Hermione wasn't surprised or at all bothered when the Weasley twins were the only ones to clap, and she made sure to acknowledge them with a playful curtsey and a laugh before making her way over to the Slytherin Table.

She wasn't welcomed by the students sitting there, and she didn't even try to fool herself into thinking she was, but Slytherin House was part of Sylvianne's legacy and she didn't doubt for a moment that Sylvianne wouldn't have been utterly delighted to have Hulda Sorted into Slytherin. And it was with that thought fixed firmly in her heart that Hermione walked with confidence in her step and her head held high to the table of silver and green.

There was clearly a specific order for the seating arrangements at the Slytherin table; the older students sat furthest from the staff table, while the younger students sat closest. Vincent Crabbe, one of the awful blond from the train's thuggish guards, and Millicent Bulstrode, the tall girl from the blond's compartment, were the only two first years to have been Sorted into Slytherin so far. Millicent was seated near the very end of the bench, at the end closest to the staff table, while Vincent was at least three spaces up from her. Hermione considered for half a moment what was likely to be the complicated internal political workings going on dictating who could sit how far up the table. Then she decided to just screw it, and sat herself down without care next to Millicent, who stiffened but didn't say anything, or try to move further away.

The Sorting continued, and Hermione made sure to clap for each of her new Housemates, none of whom chose to sit beside her, leaving the space empty, as well as for all the muggleborns from the orientation tour, and Neville, who ended up going into Gryffindor, as did Dean and Fay, while Sally-Anne went to Hufflepuff. Hermione was disappointed but not surprised when the blond, Draco Malfoy, was Sorted into Slytherin, and she noted with sharp eyes that he sat furthest away from the staff table out of all the first years to be Sorted so far.

A great hush fell over the Hall when it came time for Harry to be Sorted, and Hermione noticed the headmaster, Professor Dumbledore, leaning forward in his large, gold chair slightly. The Hat took nearly four minutes to Sort Harry, and when Cuthbert finally called out, "GRYFFINDOR!" the table of red and gold burst out into loud cheers, with the Weasley twins standing up and shouting,

"We got Potter! We got Potter!"

Hermione clapped for him, but she was the only one on the Slytherin table to do so.

Everybody from the blond, Draco Malfoy's, compartment had been Sorted into Slytherin, Hermione noted. The five boys' names, she learned, were Vincent Crabbe, Gregory Goyle, Blaise Zabini, Theodore Nott, and, of course, Draco Malfoy, while the four girls were Pansy Parkinson, Daphne Greengrass, Tracey Davis, and Millicent Bulstrode.

"Urgh," Pansy Parkinson sneered after the Sorting was completed (Ron followed Harry into Gryffindor) and the feast started, the golden plates filling with food after Dumbledore's odd little speech, "I certainly wasn't expecting to have to dine amongst such filth– but I suppose it isn't too unusual for you, though, dear," she added, turning a sickly-sweet smile in Millicent Bulstrode's direction. "Tell me, Millie, darling, how is your grandmother? I know how prone to disease her type are."

Millicent flushed in response to Pansy's words, blotchy red patches appearing on her cheeks as she looked silently down at her dinner.

It was clear to whoever looked on that Millicent Bulstrode was different to the other Slytherin first year girls. She wasn't pretty like them; she was taller, broadly-built, and ungainly with her broad, course features, crooked teeth, and prominent nose, all framed by course, framed by dull brown hair. Out of all the Slytherins she'd met so far, however, Hermione liked her best. It wasn't a pity thing– she knew Millicent's type, and she knew Millicent wouldn't want pity. It was how even as Millicent set her shoulders, ready to endure Pansy's verbal abuse, she still had to tighten her jaw, biting back the replies she wished she could be making.

Hermione wished she wouldn't. She'd love to hear whatever sharp-tongued retorts were no doubt churning in Millicent's mind, turning over and over, just dying to be released and turned loose on Pansy Parkinson.

Draco was looking scornfully across at Hermione and Millicent from where he sat, flanked by Vincent and Gregory. "This place really has gone to the dogs," he complained, whining much like a child would in her opinion. "Mark my words, I'll be writing to my father about this– he's on the Hogwarts board of governors, and I'm sure he'll be very interested in hearing how far the standards have fallen!"

"Oh, do you still go running to daddy to fix your problems?" Hermione asked idly, arching an eyebrow at Draco, Loki-style. The table around her hushed, as if nobody could quite believe that she'd dared speak. Her brow arched higher. "That's not exactly very cunning of you, is it? No wonder the standards for Slytherin House have fallen so low these days, if you're the best they can get."

One of the older Slytherin boys sitting further down the table laughed, and Hermione counted it as her victory when Draco flushed, his cheeks going pink. Of course, the war was far from over, but she was ready and raring to fight, and as she grinned at Draco, mischievous and predatory, she already knew that the fallout of their battles was going to be glorious.

::

Gabriel could still hear the echo of Hermione's voice as she said that she loved him, could still see the emotion glowing in her soul. She was sweetness personified, his Hermione; with those chaotic, untameable curls like warm, rich treacle toffee, her cheeks pink as fairy-floss, eyes like melted chocolate flecked through with caramel, and a smile as rosy and sweet as a freshly-dipped candy-apple. When she had told him that she loved him, so bright and earnest, her soul glowing with the truth of it, the Enochian had slipped out before he could even think to stop himself from answering her in kind in his first tongue.

Because he did love her; Gabriel loved his priestess, though he'd long since blurred the lines between them from god and disciple to something else, something new and special, something built up from Hermione's unwavering faith and love and her belief in him. Still, there was something quite meaningful and momentous involved in saying the words 'I Love You' out loud for the first time.

But it had been a bittersweet moment, too, and Gabriel tried not to think too deeply on the fact that the first time he'd told Hermione he loved her was also while he was saying goodbye. It wasn't a permanent goodbye, but after having unrestricted access to her all throughout the time he'd known her, bar that one occasion when Odin had abducted her, this goodbye did feel different. He couldn't just fly over and see her whenever he wanted to see her, or whenever she prayed now. And that... that made his wings itch with restlessness and he kept reaching along their link, all golden/sweet/sunshine/belief, intertwined with Fleur Delacour's fierce/floral/fire, reassuring himself that she was alright.

He was so preoccupied (and no, he was not fretting over Hermione's first day at her new school, and he would smite anyone who dared suggest it) that it took him a moment to notice his daughter's presence as she drifted out from the shadows to stand beside him.

Gabriel would always consider Hel to be beautiful, but he knew her face would send most running and screaming. Hell was no place for the living, after all, and his daughter's body had started rotting after Odin had trapped her in Helheim. Her right side was still glowing and fair with tumbling waves of long crimson hair, warm-tanned skin and her eye a bright honey-gold in colour, but her left side was a very different matter, the hair wispy, brittle, and lifeless, her eye white, and the skin decayed to reveal the bone and rotted muscle underneath.

"Hello faðir," Hel greeted him, leaning forwards to press her lips against his cheek in a cool, whispery kiss. She felt cold, here on Earth. A sign that she didn't belong on this plane, not anymore. Which begged the question; what was she doing on it, especially today of all days?

He doubted it was a coincidence.

"Are your brothers all okay? And your Aunt and Uncles? Your cousins?" he still checked, and Hel nodded, her hair swaying with the movement and drifting slightly about her face, as if gravity couldn't quite grasp it.

"I am not here to guide any onward," she reassured him, "your Hermione is quite safe. I am merely here to pass along a message to you."

"A message," Gabriel said slowly, uneasy. "And who is this message from?"

The good side of Hel's face curled into a knowing smile. "I think you know the answer to that, faðir," she said, and she wasn't wrong. There was only one being with the power to use Hel as a messenger.

"What message does Death have for me today?" Gabriel asked, feeling a prickle of unease deep in his grace. It was never a good thing, to have Death interested in you; he preferred when the primordial entity existed far, far away from him and his own.

"Harry Potter," Hel said softly, and Gabriel tilted his head slightly.

The name was familiar to him after his time spent waiting for Hermione that morning at Platform Nine and Three Quarters. The witches and wizards had been talking about the 'Boy Who Lived', as they'd called the poor kid, starting Hogwarts that year, and he'd paid attention to their gossiping when he heard the names 'Lily Evans' and 'James Potter'– the boy's parents– come up.

'Lily Evans' and 'James Potter' were familiar to him from a decade or two back, when the Angelic Chorus had given an announcement of the successful union of Lily Evans and James Potter.

Soul mates, as disgustingly rom-com and harlequin novel as it sounded, actually did exist– however, about ninety-five percent of the time (when twins weren't involved, that was) they were the work of one of the subset groups of cherubim, the cupids. Cupids, though not particularly strong compared to most of the other angels, had a special place in the hierarchy of Heaven. They had the duty to ensure that 'soul mate' bonds formed between certain individuals whose unions had been foreseen in some way as beneficial to the cause of Heaven– which was ostensibly to serve and protect humanity, though in Gabriel's opinion Heaven was more about furthering its own agenda then benefiting humanity.

Most of the time, creating soul mates was about ensuring the continuation of particularly strong or important bloodlines, or sometimes even combining two such bloodlines together. On rarer occasions, however, it was about ensuring that certain children would come to be, children that at some point in time (either as a child, or the adult they'd grow up to be), would have a significant role in tipping the scales of Balance or in the fulfilment of Prophecy– such as in the case of Harry Potter.

Gabriel had never been particularly keen on the whole idea of it all– some 'soul mates' hated each other before the cupids got involved, and no matter how important the 'cause' might be, it felt too much like taking away their Free Will by making them fall in love.

He knew his siblings saw humans mostly as means to an end, with about as much intelligence as the average ape, but Gabriel truly believed that they were his Father's greatest Creation. They were deeply flawed, often stupid and had an appalling lack of respect or appreciation for the beautiful planet his Father had Created for them, but they felt so deeply– they were tangled messes of fear, love, rage, grief, hate and uninhibited passion; they lived each day fully, getting the most out of the short little lifespans they had, and he admired them for it.

They weren't perfect, but Gabriel had never really liked perfect. Perfect was boring. Messes were challenging, unpredictable, fun. And Gabriel loved fun.

What he didn't love, though, was pissing off primordial entities with the ability to kill him.

"What does Death want with Harry Potter?" he asked Hel cautiously.

"Harry Potter belongs to Death. You may not claim him as your own, either as Loki or as Gabriel," his daughter told him, soft and solemn, and Gabriel nodded.

"Done." He agreed without hesitation. Hel looked almost amused, if her expression wasn't so pitying.

"Yes," she said, "so you say. For your sake, let's just hope your priestess doesn't decide to make him one of yours, faðir, or you're going to have some awkward explaining to do."

... "Oh, dad-damnit," Gabriel swore as Hel melted back into the shadows, because his daughter was right– that sounded exactly like the sort of thing Hermione would do.

::

By the time the desserts had disappeared, Draco had made at least four separate attempts to humiliate her that Hermione had turned back on him– she was the priestess of Loki Silver-tongue, no eleven-year-old was about to outwit her when it came to the fine art of verbal sparring.

The Hall fell silent as Professor Dumbledore stood up, clearing his throat. "Ahem– just a few more words now that we are all fed and watered. I have a few start-of-term notices to give you.

"First years should note that the forest on the grounds is forbidden to all pupils. And a few of our older students would do well to remember that as well. "

Professor Dumbledore's twinkling eyes flashed in the direction of the Weasley twins, and Hermione's interest was peaked. A Forbidden Forest? When had the forest that surrounded the school become forbidden? And why?

"I have also been asked by Mr. Filch, the caretaker, to remind you all that no magic should be used between classes in the corridors," Professor Dumbledore continued, "Quidditch trials will be held in the second week of the term. Anyone interested in playing for their house teams should contact Madam Hooch. And finally, I must tell you that this year, the third-floor corridor on the right-hand side is out of bounds to everyone who does not wish to die a very painful death."

Only a few people laughed, as Professor Dumbledore appeared to be completely serious.

Oh bugger, Hermione thought to herself, dismayed. Now he'd gone and gotten her all curious– why couldn't he have just forbidden it outright, like the forest?

...alright, she was planning on having a peek at the forest too, so that wasn't really saying much, but still.

"And now, before we go to bed, let us sing the school song!" cried Professor Dumbledore, and Hermione was amused to notice that the other professors' smiles had become rather fixed. She was even more amused by the school song itself, making a mental note to herself to scribe it out for Loki in her letter that evening.

"Ah, music," Professor Dumbledore said as the Weasley twins finished their version of the school song at their chosen tune of a slow funeral march, wiping his eyes. "A magic beyond all we do here! And now, bedtime. Off you trot!"

Hermione followed the sea of silver-and-green ties as the students all rose to their feet. The Slytherin Common Room was located much lower down in the castle then she remembered, and Hermione could feel the air getting colder and colder the further down they walked. Finally, they stopped in front of a plain stone wall, where one of the Slytherins, a rather cold-faced, dark-haired boy who looked maybe fifteen or sixteen, said; "Amphiptere!" then stepped through the suddenly rippling stone.

The first years all followed suit, Hermione included; walking through the rippling stone felt like briefly wading through a cool mist, before coming out the other side to descend down a set of stone steps, then step out into the Slytherin Common Room.

The common room itself was rather grand-looking, with its sleek, dark furniture and green and silver banners decorating the rough stone walls. Round, greenish lamps hung from chains and the elaboratively carved mantle of the low burning fireplace was adorned by a portrait larger than her of a green-scaled serpent that was twisting back and forth, back and forth, ever-restless. The windows of the common room, much to her delight, appeared to look directly out into the Black Lake itself, and she wondered if she'd be able to see Bertramus swimming past.

All the first years gathered as directed by one of the older students, just moments before one of the professors Hermione recognised from the staff table, a tall man with a sallow face, hooked nose, and dark hair, entered the room, his long black cloak billowing out behind him as he did. This must be their Head of House, she thought.

"Here in Slytherin, we look out for our own," the professor began his welcome speech, without so much as a 'welcome' in sight. "House problems stay within House quarters, and I expect a show of unity outside these walls. Am I understood?"

"But Professor Snape, surely with such extenuating circumstances–" one of the older students began to say, his glance over in her direction making clear just what the extenuating circumstances he was referring to were, but the professor– Professor Snape– interrupted him.

"I did not ask for your input, Higgs, I asked if I had made myself clear," Professor Snape said coldly, and nobody else seemed to dare say anything, even if their eyes did flick over to her. Hermione just smiled sweetly at them in response.

"First years," Professor Snape addressed them suddenly, "if you have any questions or problems you will take them to a Slytherin prefect. Any rule breakers can expect to be punished harshly." He then smiled. It was not a particularly nice smile. "Welcome to Slytherin."

::

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FIVE:

The staffroom was in a state of chaos, with Albus sitting at the head of the table as the other professors talked over each other, all of them up in arms about the Sorting. The Sorting Hat itself sat before Albus, ragged and silent, listening alongside the headmaster– it was quite amazing, really; Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, was at Hogwarts at last, yet he wasn’t even the main topic of conversation.

“Albus, surely you realise Hermione cannot stay in Slytherin!” Minerva was saying, sounding halfway between horrified and panicked.

“I-I-It g-g-g-goes against th-th-the tradition o-of Slytherin House,” Quirinus agreed, his stutter even more pronounced than usual, and his pale features drawn tight, as if in pain.

“The enchantments the Founders made when they created the Sorting Hat simply don’t take into account our current political situation!” Minerva exclaimed, fiercely protective as ever of the students. “Slytherin House just isn’t safe for her! To leave her there is to condemn her to seven miserable years of isolation and bullying!”

Various members of the staff up and down the table murmured their agreement, nodding along with Minerva’s words.

“Severus?” Albus said, turning to the dark-haired man. “You’re the Head of Slytherin House, what is your opinion on this situation?”

“…I believe Minerva is correct,” Severus admitted reluctantly. “I cannot guarantee the girl’s safety, and her happiness even less so. She’ll be ostracised within the House for being a muggleborn, and likely ostracised outside the House for being a Slytherin.”

“Are you sure about that?”

Several of the professors jumped, startled, not having expected the Sorting Hat to speak. Albus was the one to address the Hat directly.

“Given the givens, do you stand by your decision to place Miss Granger in Slytherin?” he asked it gravely, and the Hat chuckled.

“Oh I most definitely do,” it said, “she’s an ambitious one, she is, and she’s going to bring about great change within these old walls. You’ll all see– Hermione Granger is exactly where she belongs.”

“Then the matter is settled,” Albus said, looking around at the unhappy professors. “She must stay in Slytherin.”

::

Exhausted from her long day, after Professor Snape’s speech– which seemed more like a warning then a welcome– Hermione was more than happy to retire to the girl’s dormitories, where she was delighted to find Vashti waiting for her, perched on the headboard of the four-poster bed her trunk was standing at the foot of. Much like the common room, the Slytherin girl’s dormitories were bedecked in green and silver, with twisting serpents carved into the dark, glossy wood of the headboards of their four-poster beds, which were hung with deep green, velvet curtains. The bedsheets, of course, were also green and silver.

Hermione wasted little time in changing into her night-dress, hesitating a moment before deciding to tuck a knife and her wand under her pillow, Váli and Hati’s lessons a constant drumming at the back of her skull of ‘be prepared, be prepared, be prepared’. She then set up her altar on her bedside table; she carefully arranged three candles, two small, capped glass jars, one filled with soil from the clearing where she performed her rituals and one from the ocean where Loki had first saved her, and a shallow stone bowl filled with sprigs of dandelion, birch and cinnamon, a small collection of the sweets she’d saved from the Hogwarts Express, and her altar stones, one for each of Loki’s children, and of course one for Loki himself.

She lit the candles with a brief spark of magic, kneeling on her bed as she whispered her prayers, pricking her fingertips with her athame to drip blood on each of the altar stones. Her nightly ritual complete, she let Vashti blink healing tears over the small cuts, healing them like they were never there, before tucking herself into bed, listening to Vashti’s soft song send her off to sleep.

It was her disguised phoenix’s screeching that woke her later, harsh and discordant, and the sound of screaming and flapping wings. Instantly alert, Hermione panicked at finding herself half-tangled in her sheets with someone bending over her and lashed out, grabbing a fistful of the person’s hair and yanking them forwards. They weren’t expecting it and toppled over with a shriek, and Hermione twisted, reversing their positions so she was on top of the now-panicking attacker, while Vashti kept the others away.

Remembering Fay’s spell in the train, Hermione shifted so she was keeping the attacker pinned underneath her with her knees before reaching for her wand, pulling it from under her pillow and panting out, “Lumos!”

The dormitory lit up with brilliant light, revealing her would-be attackers– Pansy Parkinson was the one pinned under her, while Vashti beat off Daphne Greengrass and Tracey Davis with her claws, beak and wings, the other two girls having scrambled back, holding up their pillows in defence from the attacking “owl”.

Hermione was abruptly furious; she didn’t know what the girls had been planning to do to her, but she could guess that it wasn’t anything remotely friendly. They’d picked the wrong witch to mess with, though; Hermione had been trained by pagan gods and tricksters, and she wasn’t about to let the incident slide.

Knocking the three girls out with magic might have been overkill, but Hermione was determined to teach them a lesson, and stealing their wands, tying the three girls up with their own bedsheets and then tucking them back into their beds and drawing the curtains tightly closed was the first step in making sure they didn’t try the same dirty trick on her again– she wanted to be able to sleep at night without fearing she’d be attacked.

After she’d finished with the last girl, she cast a thoughtful look over in the direction of Millicent’s bed, which stayed silent, curtains drawn tightly closed, before heading back to her own, kissing Vashti’s beak in thanks, ticking under the disguised phoenix’s chin.

“We’ve got this,” Hermione assured her, not sure if she was speaking more to Vashti or herself.

Of course we’ve got this, sister-of-my-soul,’ Vashti sent proudly in response, rubbing her feathery chin against Hermione’s own before starting to sing again, soft and soothing, until Hermione fell back to sleep.

She woke early the next morning, her stomach fizzing with excitement and nerves for the day of classes ahead. After checking on Pansy, Daphne and Tracey– they were in a natural sleep now, and she loosened their bindings slightly, enough so that with some determined, inventive wriggling they’d be able to free themselves– she changed into her school robes, tying her new silver-and-green tie in a trinity knot (a normal windsor knot was boring; she liked how the trinity knot resembled a Celtic Triquetra, and how it was much prettier and much more fun), and plaiting the top half of her hair into a crown of braids, threading the strands through with silver flower-shaped beads while the rest of her curls spilled free.

Ready for her first day, Hermione left the dormitory, heading to the common room with Vashti on her shoulder and the three extra wands stashed securely in her bookbag, the one Ina had made her that looked like the sea, sand and sun in weave. She was surprised to find Millicent already there, the other first year sitting in front of the low-burning fire with a book open on her knees. There were a handful of other, older Slytherins too, but none of them paid her any attention.

“Good morning,” she greeted Millicent cheerfully, causing the other girl’s head to jerk up in surprise. “I’m about to head up to the Great Hall for breakfast, do you want to join me?” She offered. Seeing the hesitancy on Millicent’s face, she added, “if you’re worried about being seen with me, Pansy and the others are a little… tied up this morning. I don’t think they’re going to be getting out of bed for a while.”

She’d left the sheets loose enough that the girls would be able to wriggle free probably before being too late for their first day of classes, but not in time for breakfast.

“I’m not worried about that,” Millicent said quietly. It was, Hermione realised, the first time she’d heard the other girl speak; Millicent had a rather deep voice for a young girl, and slightly raspy. “You might be a muggleborn,” Millicent added, “but at least you’re a witch, not…” Millicent stopped herself, embarrassed, looking down at the book on her lap.

“You don’t have to tell me anything you're not comfortable with, you know.” Hermione said despite her curiosity, as she could see Millicent's discomfort. "It's not actually any of my business."

“I might as well,” Millicent mumbled, “Pansy can’t keep her mouth shut about the fact that I’m a– that I’m a half-breed.” She rushed out the last word like it was horribly embarrassing, which Hermione supposed it must be to her. Her face was red again, her skin having gone all flushed and blotchy. “I’m not even a proper witch,” Millicent said miserably.

“Of course you are!” Hermione said indignantly.

“Not according to Pansy.” Millicent looked like she was going to cry. “She thinks I don’t belong here.”

“Do you actually care what she thinks?” Hermione demanded hotly. “Honestly, truly, do you give a damn about what Pansy Parkinson thinks?”

Millicent looked taken aback, and Hermione watched as she swallowed shakily. “I– no,” she said. “No, I don’t.”

“Of course you don’t!” Hermione said fiercely. “Because Pansy’s awful and spiteful– and you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t belong.”

“…thank you, Granger,” Millicent said quietly, and Hermione smiled at her as Vashti cooed, low and sweet.

I like this one,’ her phoenix decided, ‘she feels like old, untamed creatures; like a forest of dark, twisted trees that stand bare and hunched in the sharp, bitter cold of the snow.’

And you like that?’ Hermione asked, intrigued, and Vashti sent back a wave of amusement/laughter.

‘Of course. Just like you do too, mine-heart-sister,’ she crooned, ‘all your friends have sharp teeth.’

And Hermione couldn’t deny that at all. Instead, she smiled at Millicent.

“Call me Hermione,” she offered, and Millicent smiled shyly back at her.

“You can call me Millicent,” she offered quietly, and Hermione’s smile widened, delighted at the turn the morning was taking, after the previous night’s upset.

The sound of movement on the staircase to the girls’ dormitories had Millicent standing suddenly, looking anxiously over like she was expecting Pansy and her cohort to emerge. “Let’s go get breakfast,” she said hurriedly, and Hermione was happy enough for the company that she didn’t bother to explain again that Pansy wasn’t going to be moving any time soon.

Millicent was very impressed by her ability to find the Great Hall, which made Hermione feel a bit like a fraud considering her previous knowledge, but she was mostly just glad that there were no delays caused by getting lost. She was delighted to see, upon their arrival in the Great Hall, that Neville was sitting at the table under the red-and-gold banner. He was sitting alone, so she made her way straight over to him, dragging the surprised Millicent along with her.

“Gra-Hermione, that’s the wrong table!” Millicent hissed, but Hermione just grinned as she sat down beside a surprised Neville.

“Oh, I know,” she agreed, and Millicent gave her a wide-eyed look, glancing around the Hall at the other students present, most of whom were looking over in their direction, before groaning quietly and sitting down next to her.

“You’re mad,” she said, before helping herself to the black pudding. Hermione just laughed, before turning to Neville.

“Good morning, Nev!” She beamed, “how was your first night?”

“It was alright,” the round-faced boy said shyly. “Trevor got out again, but one of the twins summoned him for me when I asked.”

“That was nice of them,” Hermione said brightly, and Neville nodded. “Oh, this is Millicent, by the way. Millicent, this is Neville,” Hermione introduced her two… friends? They were sort of friends, she decided. Neville and Millicent greeted each other hesitantly, both obviously wary of the other but going along with it anyway.

More people were starting to arrive for breakfast, which meant they were starting to get more looks. Hermione wasn’t bothered by it, and Millicent appeared to have resigned herself to it.

Dean greeted her cheerfully when he came down, and Justin waved from across the hall. Harry and Ron arrived around halfway through, and both looked surprised but Harry was friendly enough, even if Ron frowned at her.

Hermione finished her breakfast quickly, pulling some note-paper from her bookbag so she could write her letters to Loki and Fleur, telling them about her Sorting and the late-night ‘adventure’. She was halfway through Fleur’s letter when her Head of House cleared his throat behind her.

“Oh! Professor!” she said, startled, spinning around slightly on the bench to face him.

Professor Snape didn’t look too impressed, and Professor McGonagall, who was a few feet behind him, looked like she was trying not to smile.

“I believe you were Sorted into Slytherin House, Miss Granger,” Professor Snape said, in a very icy voice, “not Gryffindor.”

“I know that, sir,” Hermione said, surprised, “but I’ve read the Hogwarts rules charter, and article IV of subsection B clearly states that so long as it’s not a formal feast, students may sit at whichever House table they choose. It’s said that the Founders set the rules up that way to foster positive relationships between the students of the four Houses.”

She blinked innocently up at Professor Snape, whose eyes narrowed in response, clearly not buying her ‘doe-eyed ingénue’ act. She wasn’t lying about having read the rules, though, or about the Founders setting them up that way to discourage segregation between the Houses. “Oh, also sir,” she added, reaching into her bookbag to pull out the three wands, “I found these just lying around my dormitory last night. I’m not sure how they ended there, but I thought I should hand them in to you– I wouldn’t want them getting broken.” She smiled sweetly up at Professor Snape, who was now arching an eyebrow at her while Professor McGonagall was covering her mouth with one hand, like she was trying not to laugh.

“Exactly where she belongs, indeed,” Professor Snape murmured, accepting the wands, and Hermione, hearing the words for the praise they were, couldn’t help but beam.

::

Fleur’s heart leapt when the “owl” soared through the high arched windows of the Beauxbatons Feasting Chamber, the morning sunlight catching the light brown feathers to turn them a glittering gold. She recognised the disguised phoenix immediately and almost lost all sense of decorum entirely as she stood eagerly at the table, holding out her arm for Vasthi to perch upon.

The “owl” glided down, her brilliant colouring gaining almost as much attention as Fleur’s own uncharacteristic actions, landing with perfect grace, careful not to tear the silk of Fleur’s uniform with her claws. Fleur hastily accepted the scrawled letter from the disguised phoenix, who crooned at her, nuzzling her feathery head against Fleur’s hand as she thanked the beautiful creature, taking her seat and transferring Vashti from her forearm to her shoulder so she could read Hermione's letter.

Dearest Fleur, was printed across the paper in Hermione’s neat cursive, I’m at Hogwarts at last, and it almost doesn’t feel real! I’ve already met some lovely people, including a boy called Neville on the train who has the world’s most forgetful toad, and a girl called Millicent, who I really only sort of made friends with about ten minutes ago? She was upset because a nasty girl called Pansy is telling everyone about how she’s got creature blood in her and is saying she doesn’t belong at Hogwarts, because she’s not a real witch. Vashti likes Millicent, though, and Vashti’s a good judge of character so I think I’ll like her too!

That was so like Hermione, Fleur thought with a smile; gathering up all the misfits and unwanted to her, providing them with the friendship and support and genuine acceptance they never found elsewhere.

It turns out I broke a record with my Sorting, Hermione’s letter continued which didn't surprise Fleur in the least, it took seven and a half minutes for the Sorting Hat to decide on a House, before it put me in Slytherin. Which shocked a LOT of people, let me tell you!

Fleur blinked. Slytherin House? Granted, Fleur didn’t know a lot about the Hogwarts Houses, but she did know that Britain’s last Dark Lord had recruited mostly from Slytherin, and that Lord Voldemort was believed to be Salazar Slytherin’s Heir. Slytherin just didn’t seem as if it was the House her friend should have been Sorted in.

The next paragraph of the letter only confirmed this thought for her.

Several of my roommates, including that Pansy girl, tried to attack me last night while I was sleeping

“They what?!” Fleur hissed aloud, feeling her rage flare inside her, hot and bright. The kuanaz rune marked on her skin seemed to glint gold as her nails pricked through the thin paper, instinctively sharpening as her Veela blood responded to the burning fury she felt. She had to take several deep breaths, helped by Vashti’s soft croons and feathery head-rubs, before she could return to reading Hermione’s letter.

Several of my roommates, including that Pansy girl, tried to attack me last night while I was sleeping, but Vashti woke me and I turned the tables on them. They ended up knocked out, tied up and I took their wands and handed them in to our head of house, Professor Snape, saying I just found them laying around. They probably won’t make it to class on time today, which I feel will leave a lasting impression warning them not to try the same dirty trick again. If they do, I swear to Loki I’m snapping their wands.

“Good,” Fleur said darkly, still glowering at the letter. “Though she should have snapped them this time.” Vashti snapped her beak in vicious agreement.

Breakfast is almost over and  I’m about to head off for my first day of classes, and I promise I’ll write to you afterwards to let you know how they went!

Lots of Love, Hermione

“Why is it that she’s so protective over everybody else, but dismisses attacks against herself so readily?” Fleur demanded of Vashti, who snapped her beak again agitatedly, rustling her wings unhappily. Fleur sighed. “Thank you for protecting her,” she said, turning to kiss the disguised phoenix’s beak lightly, and Vashti cooed gently, bobbing her head as if to say ‘any time’.

“I just hope things improve,” she murmured, smoothing the letter down worriedly. She knew what it was like to go to school in a hostile environment and she wouldn’t wish it on anyone, especially not her best friend. Rubbing her palm over her kuanaz mark, Fleur closed her eyes and prayed to their god that Hermione wouldn’t end up suffering how she had. Or, if she did, that Hermione wouldn’t try to hide it, that she would reach out for help– because Fleur was determined to be there for Hermione, the way Hermione had been there for her. 

::

Chapter Text

CHAPTER SIX:

It was with a great deal of excitement that the Gryffindor first years– plus Hermione and Millicent– poured over their new timetables, handed out by their Heads of Houses before the professsors had left them to finish their breakfasts in peace. Reading out names of classes such as 'Astronomy' and 'Introduction to Charms' and 'History of Magic', Hermione couldn't help but feel a great thrill of excitement, one that was reflected by those around her.

"We've got Defence Against the Dark Arts, Potions and Astronomy together," she said to Neville excitedly. "Ooh! And we've got Double Transfiguration first today!" she added, beaming at Millicent at the thought of three whole hours of Transfiguration! "I can't wait!"

"Gran says Transfiguration is one of the most important branches of magic for a wizard to learn," Neville said nervously.

"I've heard it's really difficult, and that Professor McGonagall is really strict," Millicent added, also looking much less enthusiastic then Hermione felt.

"But the more challenging the subject, the more interesting it is," Hermione argued, earning her twin looks of disbelief from her new friends and some of the other students around her who overheard, and an approving nod from a tall, lanky, red-haired and freckled boy with a prefect's badge pinned to the front of his robes.

Hermione and Millicent ended up saying their goodbyes to Neville and Dean and set off for their first class with a generous fifteen minutes to spare in order to find the Transfiguration classroom. The Gryffindor prefect, who'd introduced himself as Percy Weasley with a slightly surprised look when she'd asked him, had given them directions and Hermione had a fairly good idea of which area of the castle it was he'd been talking about. Despite this, she quickly realised that locating her classrooms wasn't going to be as easy as she'd hoped– sometime in the last thousand years, someone had had the bright idea to charm the castle staircases to move. It was extremely disconcerting to suddenly find yourself on the wrong side of the castle and on the wrong floor with just five minutes left to get to class on time. Thankfully, she and Millicent weren't the only ones to arrive slightly flushed and out of breath, just seconds before the clock tower started chiming.

They quickly found a desk together at the front of the class, and Hermione bit back a viciously pleased grin when she noticed Pansy, Tracey and Daphne were conspicuously absent– and, unlike a handful of Hufflepuffs who burst into the classroom after class had already begun, red and out of breath from their mad sprint to try and make it on time, none of the three Slytherins turned up. Professor McGonagall gave the students a generous five minutes to find the classroom, her lips pressed into a thin, unimpressed line, before starting her class.

"Transfiguration is some of the most complex and dangerous magic you will learn at Hogwarts," she began sweeping a stern look over the very silent class. "Anyone messing around in my class will leave and not come back. You have been warned."

She then changed her desk into a pig and back again and everyone, even the students who'd been around magic all their lives, all seemed very impressed by this. Hermione thought she may have to lower her standards, somewhat– after witnessing her god reshape reality with a snap of his figners for so many years, it was difficult to appreciate the smaller acts, no matter how extraordinary they surely were.

The class was rather let down when they quickly realised they weren't going to be changing the furniture into animals for quite some time, but Hermione was very interested in the lecture Professor McGonagall gave them. She was intrigued to learn that Transfiguration leaned heavily on the early theories of the Ancient Greek philosophers Leucippus of Miletus and his pupil, Democritus, who in 440 BC were the first to come up with the concept of "atomos"– the atom.

Transfiguration focused on the alteration of the form or appearance of an object, via the alteration of the object's molecular structure, and it utilised early atomic theory in its explanations for how to do so, and performing a successful transfiguration required an understanding of the basic atomic structure of an object– which was certainly more complicated than simply waving a wand and saying a few words in Latin, as most of the students seemed to have been expecting!

Leucippus and Democritus's atomic theory of the universe and understanding of atomic structure was startlingly close to the atomic theory Hermione had learned back in her muggle Physics and Chemistry classes, which certainly gave her an advantage in understanding Professor McGonagall's lecture, as well as the notes and diagrams that a floating piece of chalk was writing on the chalkboard for them to copy down. Up until now, the magic she'd performed had relied mostly on a keen understanding of her magical core, and even her time in the past with Morgana, Merlin and the Founders hadn't delved so deeply into the actual theories behind how magic worked. She found that the near-scientific basis from which Transfiguration was based an interesting change compared to her previous magical studies, and she really understood now what Loki had been referring to, when he said he'd be teaching her 'trickster-style' magic, as opposed to the magic she'd be taught at Hogwarts.

It wasn't until the final half hour of the three-hour class that they were given a chance to apply the theory they'd just studied by turning a matchstick handed out to them into a needle. Despite the very different approach to magic, Hermione found she was still easily able to apply the newly-learned theory to succesfully transfigure her matchstick– the only one in the class to manage to do so, though Justin had managed to make his match go silver and pointy. Hermione couldn't help feeling smug that it was the two muggleborns in the class who had managed to grasp the complicated concepts and apply them, and Professor McGonagall's resulting smile and award of five points to Slytherin had her nearly glowing with pride.

The first years then had a short break before lunch, which Hermione took advantage of to drag Millicent with her to the library. Professor McGonagall had explained that while in the muggle world only fragments were known of Leucippus and Democritus's vast bodies of work, the wizarding world had many preserved copies of the ancient philosophers' writings that were free to them to access, and Hermione was keen to get her hands on them.

The library at Hogwarts was even more magnificent then Hermione remembered. Back in the days of the Founders, it had boasted an impressive collection of books, but in the time since that collection had grown tenfold, with the library itself having been expanded in size to fit them all, with the tens of thousands of books stacked on the thousands of shelves arranged in hundreds of narrow rows.

As they entered the doors to the library the librarian, a very thin and irritable-looking dark-haired witch with a long, hooked nose, sunken cheeks and skin like parchment, immediately swooped over to them in a swirl of black robes and undisguised suspicion.

"Can I help you?" she asked tightly, and Hermione nodded eagerly.

"Professor McGonagall told us that the library has copies of the works of Leucippus and Democritus that we could borrow," she explained, and the librarian's eyes narrowed further, but she gave a short nod.

"Very well, follow me," she instructed, turning sharply on her heel and striding towards the shelves. Eagerly inhaling the scent of old books that lingered in the air, Hermione trotted after her, Millicent at her heels, as the witch led them through the stacks. Hermione was quick to notice that the library still wasn't organised via the Dewey Decimal System, which had her pre-emptively wincing in anticipation of future frustration. Still, she predicted that she'd be spending enough time in the library that it shouldn't take too long to pick up on its style of organisation.

The librarian stopped before one of the shelves, and Hermione's eyes widened in appreciation as she eagerly took in the names of various ancient Greek philosophers, including Leucippus and Democritus. She wondered how many of these were considered 'lost' works in the muggle world, and felt as if she could just burst with excitement.

"You'll find the texts you're looking for here," the librarian said shortly, "but I warn you now– if you rip, tear, shred, bend, fold, deface, disfigure, smear, smudge, throw, drop, or in any other manner damage, mistreat, or show lack of respect towards any book in this library, the consequences will be as awful as it is within my power to make them."

"I would never!" Hermione said, horrified at the very thought of such disrespect. The older witch gave her a narrow-eyed, assessing look before nodding shortly.

"When you have selected the books you wish to borrow, you may check them out at the counter," she said, before leaving in another swirl of dark robes.

"Oh Merlin, she's terrifying!" Millicent breathed, looking after her with wide eyes. "My sister warned me that Madam Pince is like a dragon guarding her hoard when it comes to her books, but wow!"

"Oh, you have siblings?" Hermione asked, interested, while neatly filing away the librarian's name for future reference.

"Yeah, um, half-siblings– my father's family," Millicent explained, shifting a bit awkwardly. "I don't see them much, and my half-siblings are all older than me– they've already graduated. My father, he, uh... he doesn't really like to acknowledge that my mum and I exist unless he has to."

Hermione winced. "My parents are a bit like that too," she admitted, "they... weren't happy to learn about me being a witch."

"I think me being a witch is the only thing my father is happy with," Millicent muttered, and seeing the awkward unhappiness on her new friend's face, Hermione wanted to both hug Millicent and deliver a hefty dose of just desserts on Millicent's father. She settled for squeezing Millicent's hand instead, and her friend's cheeks went pink, even as Millicent hesitantly squeezed her hand back.

Madam Pince was waiting for them at the counter after Hermione had finally narrowed her choice down to one each of Leucippus and Democritus's works, and Hermione waited patiently as the librarian inked out the details of the checked-out texts in a massive tome, before carefully storing both texts in her bookbag and heading off with Millicent to lunch.

Arriving in the Great Hall, she was disappointed to see that Pansy, Tracey and Daphne were also present, apparently having either gotten free or being set free from their beds, and she made sure to smile sweetly at the three girls as they all shot her venomous, withering looks.

"What did you do to them?" Millicent hissed in her ear as they sat down at the Slytherin table.

"Taught them why it's not a good idea to attack me in the middle of the night," Hermione answered, with a sweet smile. "Pass the jam?"

"You're mad," Millicent sounded almost wondering as she handed down the pot of strawberry jam, which Hermione slathered liberally over two thick slices of fresh bread, still slightly warm from the oven.

"I was quite annoyed with them, yes," Hermione purposefully misunderstood. Millicent just shook her head, in a sort of horrified amazement.

After lunch, she and Millicent accompanied the rest of the Slytherin first years to their next class of the day– Herbology with the Ravenclaws. Hermione had never been a fan of gardening, but Professor Sprout was a warm, friendly woman and her explanation of the overlap between Herbology and Potions, a class Hermione very much was looking forward to, and of how beneficial it was to a witch or wizard to be able to identify, care for and know when to harvest different herbs and fungi to achieve their optimal effect was certainly motivating.

Plus, she had to admit that the tour Professor Sprout gave them of the greenhouses was surprisingly fun, especially dodging the creeping vines of one of the plants in Greenhouse Four which kept trying to tangle around their ankles, ducking the fruits thrown at them by what looked like an apple tree, if only apples were purple and smelled like sulphur when they split open, and watching Pansy shriek when a pretty, sweet-smelling flower she'd bent down to sniff had tried biting off her nose.

Their final class of the day was History of Magic (with the Hufflepuffs again) which Hermione was quite astonished to learn was taught by a ghost! According to Millicent's whispered explanation, Professor Binns had been very old indeed when he had fallen asleep in front of the staff room fire and got up next morning to teach, leaving his body behind him.

Hermione wasn't sure of the wisdom of a ghost teaching a class that required them to learn so many names and dates, considering Professor Binns had a very limited capability of interacting with solid objects that apparently didn't include being able to write lecture notes on the board. Students had to pay close attention to the ghost's lecturing to jot down their class notes, something which wasn't made easy by the professor's droning voice. Still, Hermione came out of her last class of the day with the firmly cemented opinion that Hogwarts was mad but utterly brilliant. All the best things in life were, really, but Hogwarts truly was something else.

Her cheerful mood lasted right up until she stepped into the Slytherin common room and had to immediately duck a sickly-orange curse aimed at her head, and it was only her hasty reflex of shoving Millicent aside that saved her new friend from being hit by the rebounding spell.

It struck her quite abruptly that the lack of harassment she'd experienced from her fellow Slytherins that day could very well be her Housemates having taken Professor Snape's warning after the Welcome Feast to heart in the worst possible way. House problems were to remain within the confines of the Slytherin House common room– but unfortunately for her, it seemed her very existence apparently qualified as a "House problem".

Easily tracking the curse to its caster, a sneering sixth year surrounded by a group of other students, Hermione could feel the eyes of the entire common room on her, waiting to see how she'd react. Hermione was honestly tempted to retaliate, but through sheer willpower alone she bit back the urge; she'd outsmarted a god by outthinking him, not acting out on impulse. So instead of starting a fight where she was badly outnumbered, she settled with memorising the older student's face– she wasn't ignorant to the fact she was going to prove herself to her new House and she certainly wasn't without her own vindictive streak, which the sixth-year was going to have to learn the hard way.

Ignoring the snickering, Hermione cut her way across the common room, her head held high, heading for the girl's dormitories. Millicent hurried after her, a worried frown on her face. "Um, thanks," her new friend said quietly, once they'd left the common room, and Hermione smiled at her, only slightly strained.

"Don't worry about it– you were only in danger of being hit because you were next to me, anyway," she said, and Millicent's worried frown deepened.

"I don't think that's the last time something like that will happen," she said nervously, and Hermione sighed.

"No," she agreed, grimly, "no, I don't think so either."

::

Hermione and Millicent were right, not that Hermione had doubted it. The very next morning, despite rising nearly with the sun, she found herself once again ducking a curse the moment she set foot within the Slytherin common room.

This time, it was a lone fourth year who'd sent the spell at her, more the fool to him– he'd have been better to attack with safety in numbers, instead of assuming that his more advanced age came with more advanced skills. Hermione watched in satisfaction as an enraged Vashti shrieked her fury, the disguised phoenix launching herself from where she'd been perched on Hermione's shoulder to dive, talons outstretched, at the boy, raking bloody lines down his face. The boy cried out, trying to get his wand up to curse Vashti, only for her clever phoenix to rip the wand out of his hand and swoop back over to her, dropping the wand into Hermione's outstretched hand.

'Thank you, sister-of-my-soul, that was just perfect!' she praised, and Vashti preened.

The boy's face had twisted in rage and he started storming over to her, apparently prepared to use force to reclaim his wand– another mistake on his part, assuming that she knew no magic yet, or any self-defence for that matter. Hermione didn't even bother to pull out her wand as she waved her hand in his direction, and the resulting burst of magic knocked the boy arse over teakettle, leaving him sprawled out on the common room floor, stunned and groaning.

Hermione swiftly exited the Slytherin common room before the fourth-year even managed to get back on his feet, ducking off along one of the side passages she remembered from her time exploring with Sylvianne and Helena. Considering the early hour, she knew better then to head straight to the Great Hall which at this time was likely lacking any professors, not when she knew that was the first place that boy would surely look for her.

Spending some time wandering around the dungeons wasn't exactly a chore, anyway; in fact, it was almost painfully nostalgic. She'd spent such wonderful afternoons exploring these same passages with Sylvianne and Helena; why, it was in these very dungeons that they had come face-to-face with the boggart, a terrifying encounter that had formed a close bond between the three of them, one that she mourned losing to this very day. Besides, there was something down in the dungeons that she wanted to check.

It didn't take her long to find what she'd been looking for. A thousand years ago, three young girls had nicked knives charmed against blunting from the kitchen and carved their initials into a stone wall. Now, a thousand years later, those initials remained etched into the stone; H & SS & HR. Hermione crouched down so she could reverently trace her fingertips over the aged markings. Here was proof, unmistakable and undeniable physical evidence, that her god really had taken her one thousand years in the past, that she truly had met the Founders and their children, that she had befriended Helena and Sylvianne, and that it was not the first time she'd walked this castle's halls.

Sensing the swell of emotions rising inside her, Vashti crooned soothingly from the phoenix's position perched on Hermione's shoulder, projecting waves of warmth and comfort through their bond. Hermione smiled slightly and reached up to stroke Vashti's silky-soft feathers. 'I'm okay, heart-sister,' she promised, and Vashti rubbed her feathery cheek and against Hermione's, not seeming convinced. 'I'm okay,' she repeated fondly, before standing up back up. 'Come on, darling-mine, it's about time to head up to the Great Hall for breakfast, I think. The professors should have started arriving by now.'

'Breakfast?' Vashti perked up. 'Will they have berries?'

'If they don't, we'll go to the kitchens and get you some before my classes start,' Hermione promised, and Vashti trilled in excitement, fluffing out her wings.

Hermione took the long route to breakfast, careful not to pass anywhere close to the Slytherin dungeons, where that boy or his friends could be waiting for her. She entered the Great Hall with a skip to her step, and she couldn't help her smirk when she noticed the boy who'd attacked her was sitting at the Slytherin table, bloody welts down his face and all.

He spotted her immediately too and quickly rose to his feet, but Hermione didn't head for the Slytherin table. Instead, she made her way directly to where her Head of House was eating his breakfast up on the staff table, reading a newspaper as he did so.

Professor Snape looked up as she approached and arched a dark eyebrow. "Can I help you, Miss Granger?" he drawled, and Hermione smiled sweetly up at him.

"I hope so– I'm afraid I found another wand laying around, professor," she said with as much earnest innocence as she could convincingly fake, fishing the boy's wand out of her pocket as she did so. She placed it on the staff table in front of Professor Snape, whose eyebrow rose even higher at the sight.

"How careless of its owner," her Head of House said dryly.

"Really, really careless," Hermione agreed, blinking innocently up at Professor Snape. "Anything could have happened to it! The owner is very lucky I decided to hand it in to you."

Her meaning was unmistakable, and the corner of Professor Snape's mouth twitched slightly in what she suspected was a sign of glowing approval. Probably. Maybe.

...well, he clearly didn't disapprove, at least.

"Go eat your breakfast, Miss Granger," Professor Snape ordered, and Hermione smiled gratefully at him and nodded, before turning back to approach the Slytherin table.

The Great Hall wasn't so noisy that the fourth-year boy had been unable to hear her conversation with Professor Snape, and his face was tight with rage and humiliation both as she sat down at the table, next to Millicent who was already there.

"You'll pay for that, Granger," he said lowly, his eyes glittering with malice.

"You'll need a wand first," Hermione replied, giving the boy her best imitation of one of Hati's smiles; sharp-toothed and predatory, like the wolf Hati was.

One of the older Slytherins at the table snorted and glancing over, Hermione recognised him as the same boy who'd laughed the night of the Sorting when she'd mocked Draco. He was lounging back on the bench and grinning, his amusement easy to read. His eyes, though... Hermione could feel the hairs on the back of her neck prickle in warning. There was something off about his eyes, something detached and cold about them– not to mention, at the sound of the older student's amusement the boy who'd attacked her and whose wand she'd stolen in retaliation seemed to twitch away from the older boy, his eyes darting back down to his breakfast as if he'd spotted something very fascinating in his porridge.

Hermione didn't like it; it made her uneasy, and she had faith in her instincts. Despite the fact that the older Slytherin had twice shown amusement at her verbal smackdowns of other Slytherins, ones with undoubtedly "Pure" blood, she resolved in that moment to keep her distance from whoever he was, instead turning to Millicent and smiling at her.

Millicent did not smile back. "Are you okay?" her new friend asked her quietly, sounding worried enough to startle Hermione. "You were gone when I woke up this morning, and Bole was storming about the common room, furious as a Bowtruckle whose home-tree was chopped down and used for kindling!"

"Sorry, I didn't mean to worry you," Hermione apologised. "I'm an early riser."

"And Bole?" Millicent asked, lowering her voice to barely a whisper, her eyes flicking over to the fourth-year boy– 'Bole', apparently, and Hermione took care to commit the name to memory.

"Ah. He tried to attack me," she explained to Millicent, making sure her voice was just as hushed. "I gave him the Pansy Parkinson treatment. Honestly, Purebloods are so helpless without their wands, it's quite funny."

"You're going to get yourself killed!" Millicent hissed despairingly and Hermione grinned at her.

"Regret making friends with me, yet?" she asked cheerfully, and Millicent just sighed, shaking her head even as her mouth tugged into what looked like a reluctant smile.

"No. Which probably makes me about as mad as you are."

"Oh, without a doubt!" Hermione assured her, and Millicent's smile broadened for a few precious moments, before it fell again, worry replacing the humour.

"This isn't over," she said softly. "The other Slytherins are still unhappy about your Sorting– and they're going to take it out on you."

"I know," Hermione said, solemn but determined. "But I'm going to show them exactly what a muggleborn is capable of."

She was going to force Slytherin House to eat its own prejudices, she was going to make them respect her and what she was capable of; she was Hermione Jean Granger, High Priestess of Loki, dear friend of Sylvianne Slytherin, and these intolerant, discriminatory children weren't going to defeat her. 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER SEVEN:

Despite the excitement of the morning, Hermione’s second day of classes passed without any further drama. She had Double Charms in the morning with the delightful Professor Flitwick who, despite his genial, harmless appearance– all fluffy white hair and tiny stature and squeaky voice– had a lurking undercurrent to his magic of something fierce, something dangerous; like the pounding of steel against shields, and spilled blood on a battlefield.

Charms was a fascinating subject, and far more alike to the magic she’d already been learning then Transfiguration. It was less mathematical, less scientific, and more focused on visualisation, pronunciation and memorising the wand-movements neccesary to guide the shaping and release of magic. It was incredibly versatile and Hermione had no problem at all with making her marble roll in circles around her desk, even if it had taken more effort to be able to perform the spell using her wand as a channel for her magic, rather than just with a flick of her hand. As if it had sensed her annoyance with having to use it, her wand had pinched her fingers in retaliation, before sulking when she stashed it back in her sleeve.

Professor Flitwick had been thrilled by her success, awarding her five points to Slytherin for being the first in the class to successfully cast the charm, and then another ten points when she talked Millicent through successfully casting the charm too. She couldn’t help but feel smug about the twenty points she’d already earned for Slytherin, and it wasn’t even the lunchtime of their second day of classes. It was certainly more than Malfoy had earned, despite his oh-so pure blood.

Having already read Miranda Goshawk’s ‘The Standard Book of Spells: Grade One’ and Adalbert Waffling’s ‘Magical Theory’ from their booklist (as well as all the other course books they’d been assigned), Hermione made a point of asking Professor Flitwick if there were any other books he’d recommend to supplement their learning, which earned her another point for Slytherin for her 'forward thinking' and his advice to borrow ‘Flicks, Swishes, and Jabs: The Wand Movement Guide’ from the school library. Hermione left class with a bounce to her step that was half the result of a truly good lesson and half because of the expression of loathing on Malfoy’s face.

Lunch was a bit heavy– Hermione appreciated the effort of the traditional English cooking, but hot lunches every day seemed a bit excessive and she stuck to a sandwich and a piece of fruit. As a bonus, her quick lunch meant she had time to borrow ‘Flicks, Swishes and Jabs’ from the library before she and Millicent headed to Herbology, where they were lectured on the properties of three different types of magical fertiliser, taught how to identify each, and assigned an essay where they’d have to research which type of fertiliser an aglaophotis would grow best in, and why.

After Herbology, they had Study Hall– a bit unfortunate, considering the smell of manure clinging to them all after Herbology. Still, much to Hermione’s delight as she and Millicent walked in to the Study Hall Dean, who was already sitting down, waved them over, despite the odd looks it earned him from those around him wearing red-and-gold ties.

“Hi Dean, hi Neville,” she happily greeted the two Gryffindor first years she actually knew.

“Hey Hermione,” Dean greeted her just as happily, a bright grin on his face, while Neville just smiled shyly. “This is Seamus Finnegan, by the way,” he introduced the other boy sitting with him. “And you know Ron and Harry already.”

Harry smiled at them but Ron frowned, again, and Hermione only just managed to hold back her eye-roll. Honestly, the prejudice inside Hogwarts was appalling and Sylvianne, Gerda and Greta would all be horrified to learn of the separation between Slytherins and Gryffindors. Still, being confrontational wouldn’t do anything to fix the divide that Cuthbert had warned her about– the four pillars needed to hold strong or Hogwarts would crumble from within, so she’d just have to do what she could to break down the House barriers.

“Hi,” she greeted Seamus, “I’m Hermione Granger, and this is Millicent Bulstrode,” she introduced them, and Seamus gave her a sort of wary smile. “So, what have you lot thought about our classes so far?” she asked brightly.

“They are waaaay harder than I was expecting,” Dean immediately groaned. “I thought I’d be leaving maths and science stuff and all that behind, but nope – if anything, Transfiguration is even worse!” here, he shuddered. “Plus, there’s no footy team! And my radio doesn’t work, so I can’t listen to West Ham United play!” Here, he looked genuinely horrified.

“I think there are wizarding radios you can buy that are specifically built so the magic doesn’t interfere with the electromagnetic radiation,” Hermione suggested, and Ron nodded.

“Yeah, you can probably buy one off Owl Order,” he said.

“And it’ll tune into normal stations? Not just magic ones?” Dean checked, which Ron confirmed.

“Wicked!” Dean said excitedly, before pausing. “Um, what’s an owl order?”

As Seamus and Ron explained the owl ordering system to Dean, the rest of them pulled out their homework. The Gryffindors had already had their second Transfiguration lesson and Professor McGonagall had assigned them a lengthy first essay, while Hermione and a very quiet, unsure Millicent got to work on their Herbology essay.

“Urgh, I just realised it’s no use– I don’t actually have an owl,” Dean suddenly bemoaned.

“The Hogwarts owlery has plenty of school owls you can borrow,” Hermione said instantly, having read about it in ‘Hogwarts: A History’, “or you can borrow Vashti, if you like.” 

“Really?” Dean asked brightly. “Cheers!”

Hermione couldn’t help but smile at her fellow Muggleborn’s enthusiasm, even as Ron and Seamus both looked unsure. She’d get there, she decided; she was too stubborn not to wear away at their defences. Sooner or later, they’d both fold under her genuine good will.

Following Study Hall, neither Hermione or Millicent were too keen to head back to the Slytherin common room, not with its unfriendly atmosphere, so they both accompanied Dean, Seamus and Neville to the owlery so Dean could send off his owl order with Vashti, with a brief detour to the Gryffindor common room to pick up the necessary forms and money (though the Gryffindors had made her and Millicent wait a corridor away from the secret entrance– Hermione didn’t have the heart to tell them she’d been inside all four of the common rooms already; after the Founders had come up with the idea of the four Houses, all the kids had got to help them figure out where each of the common rooms for the Houses would be).

After that, they’d said goodbye to the three boys and made their way to the library for the second time that day, where they finished their Herbology essays and Hermione got started on the Transfiguration essay they hadn’t technically been assigned yet.

Dinner was just as heavy as lunch and breakfast had been, and Hermione realised she was going to have to begin her jogging again if she didn’t want to start losing her level of fitness, and resigned herself to waking up early to jog. After dinner, she and Millicent finally headed back to the Slytherin common room. To her relief, although there were plenty of nasty looks and murmurs of ‘blood traitor’, ‘mudblood’ and ‘mudblood lover’, nobody tried to outright attack either of them.

Of course, that didn’t last.

Wednesday morning, Hermione rose early as she usually did, Vashti waking with her, the disguised-phoenix having returned to the Slytherin girl’s dorms the previous night after dropping off Dean’s order. She dressed in the uniform, plus her bracelets– none of the professors had commented on the jewellry yet, though they were mostly hidden by the dark sleeves of her school-robes– and she left her hair mostly out, with just a few small braids to keep her curls out of her face.

Before leaving the girl’s dorm she also made sure she had her karambit daggers tucked into their sheathes at the small of her back and her stiletto knives from Hati in easy reach, strapped to her thighs. Not that she was planning on using them on her housemates, no matter how awful some of them might be, but she’d been trained to keep herself armed at all times, and she wasn’t about to let her teachers down now.

With the expectation that she would be attacked, Hermione did make sure she had her wand out and ready as she stepped into the common room, Vashti bristling with agitation on her shoulder. The expected bolt of magic soared towards her, and Hermione neatly side-stepped it, only to cry out in surprised alarm as she almost moved directly into the path of a second streak of light, this one aimed at her from the opposite side of the common room– and then, when spinning to avoid the second curse, a third flew at her from yet another angle.

She was forced to dive at the floor to avoid the crossfire of curses, rolling and swiftly rising back to her feet. Vashti, dislodged by the roll, screeched her rage, an eerie, piercing cry that made Hermione’s skin crawl, and dove towards one of the three older boys who were attacking Hermione from different sides of the common room. Hermione barely avoided the next volley of spellfire, dodging two of the curses then letting a blast of her own magic collide and deflect the third curse in a bright burst of raw power.

One of the boys then yelled out in pain, courtesy of Vashti, and the split-second of distraction as Hermione glanced over in the direction of the teenager being attacked by her disguised-phoenix cost her. She still managed to avoid getting hit full on by the curse, but the acrid stench of burning hair filled the room as her curls caught fire, and she shrieked before dousing herself with water.

Now dripping wet and spitting mad, Hermione saw red. They’d attacked her with fire!? Her!? The priestess of the god of fire!?

“How dare you.” She hissed, low and venomous. Her hair crackled with power and her eyes, unbeknownst to her, burned a brilliant gold. “How dare you!”

The last one to use fire against her had been Odin, when he’d tried to burn her alive in a mockery of the god she worshipped. He had paid for his mockery, paid for it with his life, and she would make these boys pay too.

Letting her magic swirl out around her, the weight of it almost tangible and golden in the air, Hermione lashed out, sweeping her arm in the direction of the Slytherin who’d dared use fire against her, smacking him to the wall with enough force that he dropped to the floor and his head lolled forward, stunned. With a heralding screech of war, Vashti resumed her attack on the second of the trio, successfully distracting him as he desperately tried and failed to curse the disguised-phoenix. Vashti was too quick for him, though, darting about him on quick-silver wings, beating him about his head with her wings, and clawing at his face with her deceptively sharp talons.

Seeing her soul-sister had him neatly managed, a still-furious Hermione turned her attention to the last of her ambushers, jabbing her wand in the direction of the older student– she belatedly recognised him as Bole, the boy whose wand she’d handed in to Professor Snape the previous day– and hissing out the anchovy curse that Fleur had praised as so effective.

Fleur was right– live anchovies wriggling and squirming out of your nostrils were debilitatingly distracting in a duel. Bole started shrieking and panicking and carrying on like she’d just cast some sort of torture curse at him, far too distracted to notice her summon his wand across the room, or the wand of the probably-concussed, definitely-stunned boy on the floor. It was only a smug Vashti gliding over and dropping the third of the attacker’s wand into her hand which caused the boy bleeding from gouges on his face and hands to let out a shout of alarm that managed to catch the attention of the other two.

They all looked horrified and desperate– and she did not care.

“I warned you,” she said, fixing her burning glare on them as Vashti swooped back to land on her shoulder, wings raised high in blatant threat, beak bared. “I warned you.” And then, pivoting neatly on her heel, Hermione turned and threw all three wands into the open flames of the crackling fireplace.

The three boys let out identical shouts of horror and Hermione watched with the same sort of dark, burning satisfaction that her Scrapbook of Just Desserts gave her as they all bolted to the fireplace– one swaying and staggering, one leaving a trail of tiny, wriggling fish in his wake, one dripping bright drops of blood over the stone floor– all burning their hands in their panic to snatch their wands from the greedy flames.

Before they could think to turn back to her, Hermione spun, robes swishing about her legs with the movement, and prowled towards the common room exit, only to pause just feet away. Leaning against the wall beside the exit was another student, one she recognised– it was the older Slytherin with the cold eyes, the one who’d laughed when she’d mocked Malfoy and Bole. He’d clearly witnessed the ambush she’d just turned quite decisively back against the ambushers, and he looked… amused, she thought, though there was also something else visible in his dark eyes, something that looked uncomfortably close to interest.

Hermione refused to be cowed by his stare, this boy who’d been all too happy to watch three older students attack a first year without lifting a hand to help. Who’d been just as happy to watch her hand those three older students their arses, again without lifting a hand. Instead, she kept her chin high, her spine unbowed, and smiled at him, sweet as sugar.

“Good morning,” she chirped, as if there weren’t three boys behind her panicking loudly over the state of their badly charred wands. As if she wasn’t half-drenched, her curls plastered to her scalp and back, with the sharp, acrid smell of burnt hair clinging to her.

The corner of the older boy’s mouth curved up, amused. “Good morning,” he echoed her, the smooth words almost mocking. Hermione resisted the urge to curl her lips back, to show her teeth and snarl like Váli and Hati both. Instead, she channelled Eris, keeping her smile sweet with just an edge of something darker, something threatening. And the older boy… he laughed, looking delighted. “Oh, you’re going to do just fine in this snake pit, aren’t you?” he said, his question clearly rhetorical. Hermione answered him anyway.

“You can all just try and stop me,” she said, tilting her head just how Eris did when expressing just how beneath her everyone else was, "I dare you." And then she swept out of the common room, proud as the pagan gods she loved and worshipped, leaving the older Slytherin and his laughter in her wake.

::

She went and found a bathroom first, where she grimaced at her appearance in the mirror. It wasn’t as bad as she'd first thought it might be– she’d put the fire out quickly, so her hair had only burnt for a second or two, but it was long enough to do some damage. Fortunately, she had a lot of hair; very thick, very voluminous, and very curly hair, which made the uneven lengths much less obvious after she'd used one of the stiletto knives to slice off the charred ends. She even managed to cast the Drying Charm from her textbook correctly, after a couple of tries, so she didn’t have to go back to the common room to change.

It took her a bit longer to successfully conjure nasturtiums to weave into her curls, but she managed it, and looking in the mirror at the bright orange, yellow and red flowers woven amidst her curls, like licks of flame, she grinned. She wasn’t sure if anyone would understand the flower language, but wearing ‘conquest; victory in battle’ made her feel triumphant. She meant what she'd said; she wouldn’t let these students beat her, so let them try. She’d just beat them all, the way she'd beaten Bole and his friends, grinding their bigotry under her heel until they were stuck admitting that their blood prejudice was worthless, that it meant nothing.

There was still some time before breakfast, and Hermione used it to conjure up more nasturtiums which she threaded into a flower-chain necklace for the very smug Vashti, who preened at her reflection. ‘We are glorious warriors,’ the young phoenix boasted, clicking her beak smugly, ‘we are undefeated in battle, the conquerors who will destroy them all!

You are very bloodthirsty this morning, sister-of-my-soul,’ Hermione teased, and Vashti lifted a foot from her perch on Hermione’s shoulder to flash her talons, which for a movement appeared their natural bright gold.

I am a phoenix, and you are my Chosen,’ Vashti said, ‘I care not for those who threaten you, who try to hurt you– I will bring the righteous wrath of my kind down on them all!

I love you too,’ Hermione sent back fondly, with accompanying waves of love and adoration, gently stroking Vashti’s beak and adjusting the flower-necklace slightly before finally heading to the Great Hall for breakfast.

In a fit of pique mostly fuelled by the urge to outrage her Housemates and a desire to cause as much chaos as possible, after entering the Great Hall Hermione immediately veered off towards the Hufflepuff table, planting herself down next to Justin and beaming.

“Good morning!” She chirped, and Justin, who had been so engrossed in his book he hadn’t even noticed when she sat down, looked up in surprise.

“Oh! Good morning, Hermione,” he said with a small, shy smile.

The other Hufflepuffs around them were sending her curious looks, though not hostile ones– Hufflepuff really was living up to its reputation as the ‘nice’ House. Helga would be proud.

“How are you enjoying classes so far?” Hermione asked, genuinely interested.

“Isn’t Transfiguration just amazing?” Justin immediately gushed, his face shining. Hermione’s face lit up too.

“Oh, wasn’t it?” she agreed happily. “I borrowed copies of the works of Leucippus and Democritus from the library after the class, and it’s so fascinating how such a rudimentary understanding of atomic structure created the foundation for a whole branch of magic!”

Vashti cooed fondly as she and Justin fell into a deep conversation about the class, the disguised-phoenix reminding her several times to actually eat some breakfast, and it was a thoroughly pleasant meal, right up until Justin abruptly gave a squeak of alarm and went silent. Hermione was confused for half a moment, before she registered the presence at her back.

“Professor Snape!” she said, startled, turning around on the bench to face him. Her Head of House looked grim.

“Miss Granger,” he said. “We need to talk.”

Chapter Text

CHAPTER EIGHT:

Hermione fidgeted slightly in the chair. She was facing Professor Snape in his office, where he'd escorted her from the Great Hall, and his face was very grim. Hermione had a fair inkling as to what this was all about.

"Miss Granger," her Head of House said, "I received a complaint from three students this morning. I understand that you're new to the Magical World, so you may not be aware, but destroying another witch or wizard's wand is a very grave offense."

"I may have overreacted slightly," Hermione admitted, twisting her hands anxiously on her lap as she remembered the rage (and the fear) of earlier that morning. "It's just... I panicked."

"You panicked?" Professor Snape prompted, and when she failed to elaborate further, he sighed. "Miss Granger, if I am to defend you from three sets of very angry and moderately influential parents, I am going to need the full details of what happened this morning, and why you decided to throw three of your Housemates' wands into a fireplace."

"Well," Hermione said, a bit sheepish, "that part was mostly for the irony, considering they tried to set me on fire."

There was a pause.

"They what?" Professor Snape asked, his voice low and dangerous, his dark eyes blazing.

"I ducked so they just got my hair," Hermione hastened to reassure him, "and I've read about the aguamenti charm, so I could put it out before it could burn too much, but... well, they did still set me on fire. And they're, um, they're not the first ones to do that. After almost being burned alive, I sort of have... issues. With fire."

Odin had tried to burn her alive in a mockery of the god she worshipped, of course she had issues. Loki was the god of fire, she was his priestess, and people kept trying to burn her– it was infuriating!

(And traumatising, but much like how been underground at Gringotts had unnerved her, she tried not to think about that)

Professor Snape blinked, clearly knocked off-kilter. "Are you saying somebody tried to... to burn you alive?" he asked, almost incredulous-sounding, and Hermione wasn't the type to let an opportunity just pass her by (the fact she'd managed to get her god to tutor her in magic was just one example of this)– she had absolutely no issues with using her past trauma to avoid punishment.

"Most of the damage was from smoke inhalation," she admitted (...plus all the broken bones, bites, damage from the acid-like venom, stab wound, and the burns from where the flames had gotten a bit too close for comfort, but the only scars she had from Odin's kidnapping were the marks resembling Lichtenburg scars on her stomach, and only magic could erase scars – she was supposed to be new to magic).

"I was rescued before the fire reached me. But being tied up," and stabbed, "and left in a room," or a cave, "that was set on fire was, well, really traumatising. So when the three of them all ganged up on me and set me on fire, I panicked. And then I got really, really angry."

Professor Snape seemed a bit stuck on the being set on fire part. "How in Salazar's name did you end up in such a horrific situation?" he demanded, and Hermione shrugged awkwardly.

"It wasn't actually about me. Not really. Someone wanted revenge on my friend– a grown-up friend," she explained, "and they tried to use me to get it." Professor Snape's tight, pinched expression practically screamed a need for more details, so Hermione sighed and gave an edited version of the events. A very highly edited version. "My friend made some... bad decisions in his youth," she said– because she loved Loki, adored him with every iota of her being, but he had been friends with Odin, and if that wasn't a Bad Decision she didn't know what was.

"He ran with a bad crowd," she explained to her increasingly tight-faced professor, "and when things went sideways and people he cared about were... harmed," and by 'people he cared about' she meant his family and by 'harmed' she meant viciously slaughtered, "he left. Except they didn't take that well. He'd been staying away from that bad crowd since before I met him, but they held a grudge and when they found out about me they decided that killing me would be a good way to hurt him." 

Professor Snape already had a sallow complexion, one that the dim light of his office washed out even further, but after her story his face looked bone-white, and she could see one of his hands clenched so tightly that the bones of his knuckles looked like they could split his skin. 

Hermione almost felt bad about the distress she'd clearly caused; she wasn't sure why her edited version of Loki and Odin's feud seemed to have struck such a chord with her Head of House, but it wasn't as if anything she'd said wasn't true– and if it got her out of a loss of House points or detention on her third day of Hogwarts, then it was well worth it (all that trauma had to be good for something). 

"What happened with your friend afterwards?" Professor Snape asked suddenly. Hermione blinked up at him, confused.

"Pardon?"

"After you were rescued," her professor clarified, leaning forwards at his desk, his dark eyes very intense. "What happened with your friend? Did you forgive him? After he put your life in danger?"

Hermione blinked. "Of course!" she said indignantly. "He didn't mean to– he'd never intentionally hurt me, or put me in danger!"

"But it was his decisions, his choices, that put you in danger," Professor Snape pressed, "intentional or not, it was his fault you were hurt."

"Maybe it was," Hermione could admit, "but I don't care. I never blamed him, because I knew he already blamed himself enough for the both of us, and I know he'd have traded places with me in a heartbeat. It was a terrible, awful, horrible situation, but our friendship is more than just that one incident."

Professor Snape was silent for a long moment. He was holding himself so still that he reminded her of a statue. Then, finally, he reached into his desk with stiff, jerky movements, snatching up a piece of parchment on which he composed a brief missive, before sliding it across to her.

"Give this to the professor of your first class," he said briskly, "it's a late slip so you don't get in trouble."

"Oh," Hermione said. "Um, thank you."

Professor Snape nodded shortly. "I'll sort out the situation with Bole, Robbards, and Dormer. Three fourth year students attacking a single first year is unacceptable, and that's even before taking into account the type of magic they used– jinxes and bullying is one thing, but setting a younger child on fire? A fellow Slytherin, at that? That's unacceptable, and our laws do allow extreme responses when faced with the risk of serious harm."

Hermione exhaled sharply, relieved. "Thank you, Professor," she repeated, and her Head of House nodded shortly, before summoning a roll of parchment, clearly dismissing her. Hermione took her leave, grateful that she'd managed to avoid punishment– but realising that she needed to do something before the situation escalated even further. After all, it was only day three and her fellow Slytherins had already tried setting her on fire. Clearly, something needed to be done.

She had some letters to write before heading to class.

::

Hermione ended up being twenty minutes late for Defence Against the Dark Arts with the Hufflepuffs after she'd quickly written and sent off her letters, Vashti disappearing with them in a burst of golden flames. She slipped into the classroom, wrinkling her nose at the stench of garlic that lingered potently in the air, and politely handed over the late-slip Professor Snape had written her to Professor Quirrell before sitting down beside Millicent.

"Are you alright?" her friend whispered, and the stares around the classroom reminded Hermione that everyone had seen Professor Snape come and escort her from the Great Hall earlier that morning.

"Yes, I'm fine," she reassured Millicent in a whisper, "Professor Snape just wanted to hear my side of this morning's incident."

Millicent's eyes narrowed. "This morning's incident?" she asked sharply, and Hermione blinked, surprised to feel Millicent's magic– young, still growing, but fierce in its youth, with a bite of wilderness, snow, and spilt blood– begin to stir, agitated.

"Ah," she said, "um. Well. Bole may have tried to ambush me."

"He what!?" Millicent hissed.

"...and he may have recruited two of his friends to help," Hermione added, with a slight wince.

Millicent sucked in a breath, visibly fuming. "How dare he!" she hissed. "You're a Slytherin! How could he?"

"If it's any consolation, I don't think he'll try anything again," Hermione offered. "Professor Snape was furious, and it's pretty embarrassing to keep getting bested by an eleven-year-old who's only just started to learn magic." She decided to keep what she'd done to their wands from her friend– apparently, destroying wands was more of a taboo then she'd realised.

Millicent did calm down slightly, but the look she gave Hermione was suddenly very thoughtful. Hermione wasn't sure why, or what it was she'd said that had put that look on Millicent's face, but Millicent didn't ask for any more details about the fight. Instead, she just said, "wake me up in the mornings, okay? At least until this is over."

"I wake up early," Hermione warned, but Millicent just set her jaw, stubbornness flashing in her eyes.

"I don't care."

"Okay," Hermione said, unable to help her smile in the face of Millicent's show of friendship. "I promise."

"M-M-Miss Granger, Miss B-B-Bulstrode," Professor Quirrell stammered suddenly, interrupting their whispered conversation, "p-p-please p-p-pay attention."

"Sorry Professor," Hermione blushed, quickly turning back to the front of the classroom, mortified to have been caught by a professor not paying attention in class. It took her less than two minutes of paying attention to realise she needn't have bothered. Like everybody else, she had been looking forward to this class, but it turned out that Defence Against the Dark Arts was an utter joke. Professor Quirrell was useless! Oh, she knew she couldn't expect him to meet the same standards as Loki, Váli or Hati, her previous teachers in the way of defence, but still!

The topic of the day was vampires– she presumed somebody had asked about the abominable stench of garlic in room– and Hermione listened in disbelief as Professor Quirrell stammered and whimpered his way pitifully through an account of how he'd accidentally stumbled across a nest of vampires in the Black Forest, Germany, without actually saying a word about what they should actually do if they found themselves in the same situation. Hermione knew how to fight a vampire the 'hunter' way– even though most hunters believed vampires were extinct, there had been plenty written about them in the old hunters' journals Loki had given her.

All her sources had stated that most vampire lore was next to useless– a cross wouldn't do anything to repel a vampire, neither would a stake to the heart, sunburn was more an irritant than a deterrent, and garlic was useful only for garnishing a dish. Dead man's blood could incapacitate them, and the ashes of a mixture of saffron, skunk cabbage and trillium worked to block human– or even another vampire's– scent, but only decapitation was truly effective against one– though extreme physical injury or immolation worked in a pinch. Most hunters weren't magical, however, nor were they commonly accompanied by a phoenix or in the habit of carrying around flame-throwers, so decapitation was the usual go-to method for dealing with a vampire who was going around murdering the local populace.

What she actually wanted to know, and had been expecting to learn in this class, however, was methods for fighting vampires the magical way. And all Professor Quirrell was doing was blabbering something about vampires keeping their victims alive as he stood at the front of the class, looking pale and sick. Hermione stewed in silence for ten minutes before she couldn't take it any longer and shoved her hand in the air. Professor Quirrell stopped speaking mid-sentence, blinking at her in surprise. "Y-Y-Yes, M-Miss Granger?" he asked, sounding bewildered.

"Is there any apotropaic magic we can use to defend ourselves from vampires?" she asked, which she considered a fair question, as this was supposed to be a class about learning defence– and hunter journals were decidedly lacking when it came to magical defences, for obvious reasons.

According to the books she'd read, apotropaic magic was a branch of magic that focused on defence, such as wards. Muggles also had their own version of apotropaic magic– eyes painted to ward off the evil eye, grotesquery, rosaries and exorcisms (the muggle version) all fell under this category.

Professor Quirrell stared at her, mouth slightly open in surprise. Hermione smiled politely back at him, and there was something... off about the way he met her eyes, despite the meek way he held himself–  she'd learned a lot about body-language from Loki, Váli and Hati when they taught her to fight, and something about Professor Quirrell's body language was just.. well, off. He smiled shakily back at her, but there was nothing even close to a smile in his eyes. As she blinked innocently up at him, as if she was just some sweet, silly, studious little thing, she wondered if anyone else saw it.

"Th-there are sp-spells," he stammered, "b-b-but they are t-too a-a-advanced. First y-years learn to identify and research the spells and the theory behind them, in later years you learn how to cast them."

Annoying, Hermione thought to herself. But still, at least if they were assigned researching the spells for the class, she'd know them and be able to practice them, either by herself or under Loki, Váli or Hati's supervision.

"Thank you, professor," she chirped prettily, meeting Professor Quirrell's eyes again to smile sweetly up at him. And then her eyes narrowed as she felt what was unmistakably a press against her Occlumency shields, icy black tendrils of shadow worming against the edges of her mind, seeking a gap to sneak through.

What.

How. Dare. He!?

Feeling her hackles raise, Hermione tugged on her connection to Loki, on bright flame and brighter lightning, the flare of brilliant gold that tasted of ozone and abyss on the back of her tongue, and pushed it towards the unwelcome invader.

Professor Quirrell gasped, a sound soaked in pain, and jerked his head away from her, away from the class as a whole, but not before she caught a glimpse of blood dripping from his eyes.

"Professor!" Gasped one of the Hufflepuffs, springing to her feet, her hands fluttering in her anxiety to help.

"I'm feeling poorly," Professor Quirrell managed to get out, between gritted teeth. "Class dismissed."

Hermione wondered if Professor Quirrell even realised that he wasn't stuttering, or if the pain was too terrible for that– if it was the pain, his stutter must be a psychological one and the pain was too debilitating for the usual anxiety to trip his tongue and strangle his speech. Hermione felt no remorse for what she had done; her mind was her own, only those she allowed within it may have access. He deserved his suffering, for what he had attempted.

"Do you want us to get Madam Pomfrey?" Another Hufflepuff offered. Professor Quirrell was hunched over his desk now, hands pressed to his face, and his turban slightly askew. The sound he made in response to the Hufflepuff's question was almost a growl.

"No. Out!"

Hermione didn't wait a second longer, not interested in lingering, and Millicent followed her as she left the class amidst a swarm of excitedly chattering first years. "That was bizarre," Millicent said with a frown. "What do you think it was all about?"

"I'm not sure," Hermione lied.

"Poison, maybe?" Millicent mused. Hermione noted that she didn't seem particularly bothered by the prospect. "I've seen someone go like that before– he bled from every orifice he had. It was a mess."

"You have?" Hermione blurted out before she could stop herself, shocked. Millicent flushed, ducking her head as if she'd just realised what she said.

"My ma and I, we live in a flat along Knockturn Alley," she mumbled, "it's the easiest place for a hag to live, but... it's not the easiest place to live." Comprehension dawned on Hermione, followed by understanding. Knockturn Alley was the magical equivalent of a slum for the sort of 'Dark' magical folk rejected by society– hags, werewolves, banshees, and vampires were among those largely ostracised by Magical Britain, and who struggled to make ends meet in a world that despised and looked down on them. Giants, trolls and goblins didn't even bother with trying to mix with witches and wizards, instead living in their own remote communities.

Hermione wasn't quite sure what to say, or how to respond. It wasn't fair to Millicent that she'd had to grow up with that sort of discrimination hanging over her, like the blade of an axe pressed to the back of her neck, and there wasn't really anything she could say that would make her friend feel better. Instead, she reached out and clasped on to Millicent's hand, squeezing gently, a silent promise that she hoped spoke more than words could. She would stand by Millicent's side now, through hell and back, and no matter what, she wasn't ever going to let go. 

::

Fleur Delacour was fuming. So was vivacious, vengeful Vashti, the scent of smoke still clinging to the disguised phoenix's false brown-gold feathers from her journey from Scotland to France via phoenix-flame, a letter clutched in her talons. A letter from the most welcome writer Fleur could hope for, but containing the most unwelcome news she could imagine.

Hermione had been attacked again! Twice! And not even by her roommates this time, but by fourth year students, fourth years who had no reason to think that a muggleborn who had only been attending Hogwarts for three days would know any magic at all! It was infuriating, and it set Fleur's soul ablaze with rage.

I'm not sure what to do, Hermione had admitted in her letter. Clearly retaliating against the attacks is doing nothing, but how do I get my House to respect me? Or if that's too much of a stretch this soon, to at least not attack me? I don't doubt that I'll be able to prove myself to them eventually, but I'd rather not have to be on guard every time I set foot in my own common room! It's tiring having to avoid it all the time.

"Oh those bastards!" Fleur hissed, her hands curling into fists at her sides. Her nails pricked painfully at her palms, alerting her to the fact that her anger was triggering her nails to sharpen to talons. Taking a deep breath, Fleur flexed her hands out in front of her, watching with icy eyes as the sharp talons blunted, returning to her previous perfect manicure.

She remembered, wistfully, her time visiting the Veela Clan before the school term had begun, where she didn't have to hide. Her mama and grand-mère's Veela Clan didn't need to hide away their heritage. There, the Veela walked around with their talons out, feathers flowing and preened, scaly wings arched high and proud, beaks elegantly curved. Amongst the Veela, beauty wasn't skin-deep, beauty was found in the soul.

She wasn't quite sure what she'd been expecting from her visit to the Veela Clan, but even with no expectations she'd still managed to be surprised. The Clan lived on an island off one of the coasts of France– Fleur wasn't sure which as she was considered an outsider and wasn't privy to that knowledge. The Veela lived in beautiful cottages with smooth white walls glimmering like oyster pearls and roofs red as the ocean's surface at dawn and dusk. The sand was golden, the grass a rich green velvet dotted with bright, colourful wildflowers like scattered jewels, and the ocean a shimmering blue. It was a small slice of paradise soaked in ancient, natural magic.

Almost immediately after arriving on the island, she was introduced to the Matriarch of the Clan. Fleur, her mama and her grand-mère were all escorted to a white marble pavilion where her mama and grand-mère presented her to the Veela kneeling on a large woven rug in the centre of the pavilion. 

The Matriarch, who introduced herself as Giselle, had been clothed in a slip so fine it was almost sheer and hinted at shadows beneath the fabric, the neckline plunged halfway to her naval, and the sides slit up to her calves. She was barefoot, her hair slipping down over her shoulders and down her back like trails of liquid moonlight, and her eyes were bright as forget-me-nots. Her beak was long, with dark purple stains along the curve– some sort of berry juice, Fleur assumed– and her dark, scaled wings draped almost lazily behind her over the rug.

She had been younger than Fleur was expecting, though Veela all had a certain agelessness about them. Her assessing gaze was certainly heavy as it fixed on each of them, and Fleur was certain that she didn't imagine it lingering on her the longest. The Matriarch broke the silence, and her first words to them was a demand to speak to Fleur alone, which was not normal, if her mama and grand-mère's reactions were anything to go by. Fleur couldn't deny how nervous she'd been, watching them leave. 

Giselle stood and approached her as soon as they were out of sight, reaching out and seizing Fleur's arm, her grip firm but not rough, careful not to let her clawed fingers pierce Fleur's skin. As she pushed up the loose sleeve of Fleur's dress, Fleur realised with a jolt of surprise just what Giselle was so intent on– and on her skin, at Giselle's touch, Loki's mark lit up a bright, brilliant, blazing gold.

Giselle immediately dropped Fleur's arm as if she'd been burned and stepped back, shaking her hand slightly as Fleur looked on in confusion. "We cannot claim you as Clan," the Matriarch said, "not when you have already been claimed by another."

"I don't want to be claimed!" Fleur told her, a bit indignant, protectively clapping her palm over Loki's mark on her arm, as if protecting it. "I already have a god I worship! I didn't realise that wanting to show interest in my heritage as a Veela or possibly becoming a part of my mama's Clan meant I was swearing myself to a– a god or goddess or something!" 

"I see," Giselle said thoughtfully, tilting her head slightly in a birdlike manner. "The fault is not with you, then, but with your elders for failing to teach you our ways. That does not surprise me, as they have already strayed from our ways," here, her lip curled, reminding Fleur of the reactions her mama and grand-mère had received from some of the Clan in the short time they'd been on the island– Veela traditionally reproduced through performing the Blessed Rites*, and her mother and grand-mère were looked down on for resorting to intercourse with a man to have children.

"Nonetheless," Giselle said, tilting her head, her bright, bright eyes boring into Fleur's own, "I can see your Fire and Faith, bright one, and oh, you Burn... while your soul belongs to Loki-God of the Norse Pantheon, I will teach you of Mother-Of-All; how She Created us, how She was Betrayed, and how She was Cast Down into Purgatory. Listen Fleur, for this is the history of your Fire, your Blood, your Magic, your Origin. You are a Daughter of Eve, and you should never forget that."

Vashti's impatient nip brought Fleur back to the present, and after hastily apologising to the impatient phoenix who was waiting for her reply she looked down at her perfect manicure in disgust and dismay. "Why am I hiding?" she whispered to herself, "I am a Daughter of Eve, I am an Acolyte of Loki, I am Fleur fucking Delacour." Taking a breath, she flexed her fingers, let the heat rush through her veins, let her nails lengthen and sharpen, until long, sharp talons had replaced her perfect manicure.

"Right," she said, turning to look up at Vashti and smile, fierce and vicious. "Let's help Hermione figure out how to conquer Hogwarts."

Vashti's proud coo was unmistakably one of agreement.

::

Chapter Text

CHAPTER NINE:

Professor Quirrell's 'mysterious illness' was quickly forgotten in the wake of their sudden free time before lunch. Transfiguration followed lunch, and Hermione was able to turn her thistle into a thimble on her first try. Professor McGonagall awarded her fifteen points to Slytherin and told her she could get started on the essay she was assigning them for homework.

Sheepishly, Hermione pulled the already completed essay from her bookbag and handed it in to the transfiguration professor. After learning the topic from the Gryffindors during Study Hall the previous day she'd been able to get started on it the previous evening as she'd already finished her Herbology and Charms homework and then complete it during the free time earlier that day as they'd been let out of DADA early without being assigned any work.

Exasperated, though in an amused sort of way, not an annoyed one, Professor McGonagall awarded her another ten points and invited her to tea and biscuits in her office the following afternoon for a discussion. Hermione got to spend the rest of that class alternating between helping Millicent and working on a fascinating new essay topic Professor McGonagall assigned her on non-living to living transfigurations.

With classes finished for the day, Hermione and Millicent headed for the grounds at Hermione's request– it had been three days since she'd arrived at Hogwarts now, and Hermione had made a promise to a squid she intended to keep.

On their way down to the Black Lake– the name of which was a bit of a misnomer seeing as it was freshwater and landlocked, making it in actual fact a Scottish loch– Hermione was delighted to bump into Neville. "Where are you off to this fine afternoon?" she asked him cheerfully.

"I'm looking for Trevor," Neville told her and Millicent glumly. "I can't find Fred or George anywhere to summon him."

"You should join us," Hermione suggested, "toads like damp environments with lots of plants, right? We're going down to the Black Lake, that would be a perfect toad environment!"

"If you don't mind," Neville said shyly.

"The more the merrier!" Hermione said brightly, and Millicent nodded, her smile small but genuine.

It was late afternoon as they made their way out across the wide lawn, heading towards the shore of the loch. There was a slight nip to the air and the surface of the loch was rippling from the breeze. Hermione sat down at the edge of the loch and pulled off her shoes and socks and hitched up her long skirt above her knees with one hand before stepping out into the shallows. The water was cold, numbing her skin. She shivered, letting her magic flow through her body, ripple out through the water, reaching out.

What she found wasn't at all what she'd been expecting.

Hermione froze when from the depths of the loch, a presence unfolded and reached back. It felt vaguely like an ocean's tide, vast and unknowable, but the water was an unfathomable void that swept over her, all-consuming, as if it were about to swallow her whole. Hermione instinctively reached for burning wildfire/flashing thunderstorms/steadfast faith/brilliantgold, wrapping it protectively around herself as a shield until the eldritch presence backed away, no longer prodding but instead slowly rising from the depths.

She sucked in a startled, gasping breath, only just realising she'd been holding her breath for the entire encounter, which had spanned for both an eternity and a second. "You alright?" Millicent called out from the shore. 

"Um," she said, a bit shaky, watching as Bertramus's mantle breached the dark surface of the loch, coincidentally at the same time as the eldritch presence rose to the loch's surface, "I think so?"

But she also thought that Bertramus might be some sort of Eldritch Elder god of the Lovecraftian type, which was more than just a little unnerving, so... maybe she wasn't completely alright.

"Oh Merlin!" Millicent suddenly gasped from the shore as she spotted Bertramus, who had started cutting through the water towards them, and Neville let out a strangled sound as the giant squid got closer and closer, until he'd reached the shallows. Cloaking herself in courage and faith, Hermione took a deep breath and stepped forwards, towards him. Elder god or not, she reminded herself, he was still Bertramus.

"It's okay, guys, he's friendly," she reassured her friends, hoping she wasn't lying as she reached out to gently stroke along his slippery, sort of slimy skin. A large bubble popped on the surface of the water near the vicinity of Bertramus's head and Hermione took the hint, sucking in a deep breath before leaning forwards and ducking her head underwater so she could hear him.

She almost regretted it. The words-notwords hurt her ears, but the last of her doubts that it was the same squid as the one Helena had accidentally enchanted over a thousand years ago were erased– as were the last of her doubts that something terrifying slept with one eye half-open beneath Bertramus's slippery skin.

"Helena's friend! Helena's friend!" the probably an Elder god crooned, sweet and pleased, nudging his massive head against her face with enough force that he almost knocked her over. "Clever, clever little thing! Still so warm, and so bright! Such a bright little thing! Brighter then dying stars!"

Hermione couldn't actually speak underwater, so she tried to convey her emotions– pleased/curious/happy-to-see-him– through her magic. She wasn't sure how well it translated, and she shivered a bit when that vast presence brushed against her, her primitive lizard-brain screaming at her to run. Determined not to falter, Hermione instead leaned forwards to kiss Bertramus above his eye, and gave an internal sigh of relief when Bertramus folded that Other presence back into himself, until he appeared to be, for all intents and purposes, just a giant squid.  

'The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones will be. Not in the spaces we know, but between them. They walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen.'* She thought to herself, and then she really had to lift her head up from the water to breathe.

Millicent immediately started shouting at her.

"Hermione, what in the seven hells?" Her friend demanded, and Hermione winced as she realised how crazy she must have looked to Neville and Millicent, dunking her head underwater like that.

"Um," she said, "...in hindsight, there were better ways of looking to see if he had teeth."

"Like, maybe not putting your head in biting distance of them!" Neville exclaimed loudly, and both Hermione and Millicent stared at him. Neville turned bright red as he realised he'd just shouted at her, but then Millicent nodded approvingly.

"Thank Merlin at least one of my friends has a Slytherin's sense of self-preservation," she said, "though I admit, I was expecting it to be the one who was actually Sorted into Slytherin."

Neville blushed even harder hearing that, but Hermione could see the pleased look on his face when Millicent called him her friend, and she couldn't help her own beaming smile. Giving Bertramus the probably-an-Elder-god-and-oh-dear-Loki-she-needed-to-write-to-Loki one last pat and promising to visit him again soon with fish (and questions!) she waded back to shore and used her cloak to rub her face, legs, feet and hair dry before pulling on her socks and shoes and using magic to free her wet curls from their braids, letting them spill chaotically down her back to dry. The flowers from the morning were a lost cause, but she'd already made her statement with them.

Before heading back up to the castle, the three of them walked a lap around the loch, helping Neville look for Trevor the toad. Hermione let Millicent and Neville walk slightly ahead, with the excuse of fixing her shoe so she could discretely summon the toad and pretend to find him. They then returned to the castle and parted ways at the Entrance Hall, with Neville heading to the Gryffindor common room while Hermione and Millicent returned to the Slytherin common room, promising to meet up at the Astronomy Tower with the rest of the first years that evening for Astronomy at midnight.

Word must have spread about what Hermione had done to Bole, Robbards, and Dormer because when she and Millicent entered the common room, none of the other Slytherins bothered them. Of course, none of their Housemates talked to them either, but one step at a time.

Hermione did notice the older Slytherin, the one who'd watched her get ambushed, the one who'd said she'd do just fine in the snake pit, look her way briefly and smile, sharp and sly, and she pointedly turned her back to him, not interested in playing games, unease prickling down her spine. She ignored the sound of his laughter, low and amused, and instead she wrote her letter to Loki then pocketed it, ready to give to Vashti when she returned, and focused on finishing her new transfiguration essay.

She and Millicent retired to bed at about nine, hoping to get some sleep before Astronomy at midnight. Millicent dozed off nearly immediately, but Hermione was distracted by Vashti who was perched on the headboard of her four-poster, preening, and the two letters resting on her pillow.

Delighted, Hermione reached for the one inked in the unfamiliar handwriting first, correctly guessing this was from Eris, the Greek Goddess of Strife and Discord. When deciding who to write to about her problem with the Slytherins, as well as Fleur she'd ended up choosing Eris because Loki was too overprotective and Váli, Fenris and Hati didn't have the experience navigating the overly political courts of the gods the way that Eris did with Olympus.

Eagerly opening the letter, Hermione smoothed out the parchment and read.

Dearest Hermione,

Oh darling, I am so pleased that you wrote to me for counsel in this matter, and of course I shall guide you as best I can. My first and most important piece of advice to you, treasure, is that change will not happen unless you make it happen– the cattle must be herded, regardless of what they wish to believe, for n obody will change their ways unless you force them.

Hermione, my sweet, you are no lamb to be slaughtered for the feasting, no calf to be sacrificed at the altar; rather, you are smart, you are powerful, you are a leader– this is what you must prove to them all. You are already set apart from the herd, now you must prove yourself superior to it.

Hermione, dear heart, you are a Tempest; your bones are made of storms and chaos, and chaos bows to no one. Assert yourself before your House, find what they respect, find what they worship and revere, then cloak and crown yourself with it. Gods rise and fall on the whims of the worshipping masses– so rise.

ρις

Honestly, while that could have been more straightforward, Hermione was familiar with the overly flowery and dramatic language the gods in her life were fond of using and she thought she understood the gist of what Eris was saying. She shouldn't be trying to blend in and become one of the crowd; she was a Priestess of Loki, she wasn't made to be part of the herd. No, Eris was telling her she should stand out and be proud of it, that she was a leader, not a follower, and she should prove it by finding out what it was that Slytherin House respected and embodying it; she didn't need to prove herself to them, she needed to prove herself superior to them. 

Feeling emboldened already, Hermione opened Fleur's letter next.

Oh Hermione!

I'm furious to hear you were attacked again! Are you sure you don't want to transfer to Beauxbatons? Or perhaps I should transfer to Hogwarts? I could curse the genitals off those awful boys for what they tried doing to you!

My favourite tactics for dealing with the problem of my bullies were time-delayed hexes and curses– those were harder to trace back to me, and I made sure to cast at least fifteen nonsense spells afterwards in case one of the professors thought to cast a 'priori incantatem' on my wand– however, I'm not sure if those would be the best tactic for your issue.

What I think you need to do is to put on a show, to give a public display of strength– and perhaps humiliation, for your tormentors. You should pick out the most outspoken pureblood Slytherin first year, one who is as purity obsessed as they come– that Malfoy boy you mentioned sounds like he'd be perfect– and challenge him to a blood duel. Simply cut your hand across the palm and speak the challenge. First blood wins.

Believe me, the loss will be horrendously humiliating for him, especially if you play around with him first, making it clear that you could crush him at any moment. I believe the "duel" will impress your House as it will prove not just your magical strength and knowledge, but also your knowledge of their rituals and traditions.

I dearly hope this helps, and you must tell me how it turns out. 

All my love,

Fleur

Hermione stared down at Fleur's letter, thoughtful. A blood duel? That sounded fascinating. She hadn't read about those, which surprised her considering all the blood rituals she'd read about. The thought of thrashing Draco Malfoy in front of all of Slytherin House was an incredibly appealing one.

And then Hermione had an absolutely brilliant idea– she knew exactly how she was going to follow both Eris and Fleur's advice.

But first–

"Vashti, I need you to take this to Loki," she said, pulling her letter out of her pocket, "I'm pretty sure Bertramus is an Eldritch Abomination."

Vashti gave her the most incredulous look a phoenix disguised as an owl could manage, which was fairly impressive in itself, before she literally reached out to hit Hermione over the head with one of her wings. 'Only you!' she sent waves of exaspperation through their link. 'Only you could possibly court this much chaos in my brief absence!'  

Hermione just laughed, sending back amusement as Vashti clipped her over the head again before snatching up the letter and disappearing in a burst of golden flames. 

::

Hermione woke Millicent ten minutes before midnight, then, because she was feeling generous, she woke Pansy, Daphne and Tracey too, not that they were grateful for it.

Millicent hadn't changed out of her uniform and Hermione had never actually gone to bed, so the pair of them left the other girls behind as they made their way up to the Astronomy Tower for their Astronomy class.

Astronomy, which was every Wednesday at midnight until one-thirty am, was where they learned the names of different stars and the movements of the planets. This knowledge was important in subjects such as Arithmancy, Alchemy, Divination, Herbology and Potions, all of which were affected by the movements of the planets and stars. Hermione had to admit, though, that Astronomy in itself didn't interest her overly much as it was mostly rote learning. It was the one class besides Potions that they shared with the Gryffindors, though, so she and Millicent got to sit with Neville, which was nice, and before saying goodbye and heading back to their dorms they arranged to eat breakfast together.

"I thought you were weird when you made us hang out with a Gryffindor," Millicent said as they walked back to the Slytherin common room together, "but he's actually alright."

Hermione laughed. "From you that's pretty high praise." She teased, and Millicent grumbled, shoving Hermione gently with her elbow.

The next morning Hermione woke Millicent up as promised and together, along with Vashti, they warily made their way out into the common room. It was empty, to their relief, and they hurried through, exiting and making their way up to the Great Hall. Neville was already sitting at the Gryffindor table, waiting for them, but as they crossed the room, movement over at the Slytherin table caught Hermione's eye. She turned slightly and saw it was that bloody older Slytherin. He was smiling again, and he waved at her. Dangerous, her instincts whispered.

Hermione smiled back, all teeth, before turning her back on him, again, away from him and towards her friends.

"Who is that?" Millicent asked, voice hushed as she and Hermione made their way over to Neville.

"No idea," Hermione said through a forceful smile, before relaxing as she slid onto the bench next to Neville. "Morning Nev!"

"Good morning Hermione, good morning Millicent," Neville greeted them.

"You should both call me Millie," Millicent offered. "I, um, I like it better."

"Okay, Millie!" Hermione agreed, delighted.

Breakfast passed quickly, and the three of them retired to the library where they finished their homework and got started on revision for Potions– a pale-faced Justin had warned them that Professor Snape liked springing surprise questions on students and that he took away points if they didn't answer them correctly.

At lunchtime, they returned to the Great Hall, where Hermione and Millie exchanged a look before grinning at Neville whose eyes widened in horror. "Oh no," he whimpered.

"Oh yes," Hermione said cheerfully. She and Millie linked arms with Neville on each side so he didn't have the option of running away and the poor boy resigned himself his fate as they frog-marched him over to the table of silver and green. The whole Hall fell silent and Neville's face was flaming red as he sat between them, his chin tucked so low it was touching his red-and-gold tie.

Cheerfully, Hermione served up a sandwich for him for when hunger overtook his embarrassment before she got started on her own sandwich. A moment later, someone sat down on her left. Hermione blinked in surprise, turning and glancing up to see red hair, freckles, a cheeky grin, and a red-and-gold tie.

"What are you doing here, Weasley?" Millie demanded, and Hermione turned right to see that an identical red head had sat down next to Millie, boxing her, Neville and Millie in. Apparently, the Weasley twins had decided to join the fun.

"We couldn't just–"

"Let Neville here–"

"Get all the–"

"Credit for this–"

"Amazing prank!" The twins exclaimed.

"This isn't a prank," Hermione huffed, rolling her eyes. "It's three friends eating lunch together!"

The twin next to Hermione reached over to grab half of her sandwich, casually taking a bite out of it. He grinned at her when Hermione gaped at him. "Now it's five friends eating lunch together." He said cheerfully. 

"You–!" Hermione was actually speechless for a moment, before smiling sweetly at him, reaching up to pat his shoulder. "I hope you enjoy it." She said, at the same time as she let her magic sizzle at her fingertips. Fleur was right about time-delayed charms being useful– the Weasley twin wouldn't notice his cloak slowly changing colour to green and silver until hours later. Changing colours was one of the first acts of magic that Loki had taught her; there was very little variance she couldn't do with it. "Which one are you, anyway?" she asked him, as she picked up her remaining half a sandwich. 

"I'm Fred," he said, dipping an imaginary hat at her.

"Or maybe I'm Fred." The other twin said, with a mock bow.

"You just have to ask yourself," the first twin said faux-thoughtfully, "was it a bluff?"

"Or was it a double bluff?"

"Or maybe it's a triple bluff?"

"Or maybe I'm just going to call you Fred–" Hermione decided, pointing to the one sitting next to Millicent whose magic felt more like the crackling pop of fireworks, "and you George," she said, pointing to the one whose magic felt like the fizzing tingle of sherbert.

"Is there a reason you're here, other than stealing Neville's thunder and Hermione's lunch?" Millie cut in, unimpressed. Hermione admired how well Millie did unimpressed– she actually rivaled Professor Snape.

"Yes, as it happens," Fred said, leaning forwards with a glint in his eye. "You see–"

"Bole, Robbards and Dormer–" 

"Have not kept their mouths shut."

"And what they've been saying–"

"About planning revenge–

 "On a poor little firstie–"

"And then very suddenly–"

 "Not saying anything at all–"

"Well, that is very interesting." The twins grinned.

"What!?" Neville demanded, suddenly going from silent, mildly shell-shocked and very intimidated to upset. "You were attacked by your Housemates, Hermione?"

Neville looked outraged. Hermione was touched. "It's okay," she reassured him. "Some Slytherins– okay, most of the Slytherins– aren't that happy about me being Sorted into their House, but I dealt with Bole and his cronies and I've got a plan to deal with the rest. Probably tonight, actually– three Gryffindors eating at the Slytherin table is definitely going to spark something– and I know exactly what I'm going to do."

"Those are fighting words," Fred said.

"And I'm going to win," Hermione replied, sure as her faith.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TEN:

After classes finished for the day, Hermione said goodbye to Millie and headed for the Transfiguration classroom for her tea and biscuits appointment with the Transfiguration Mistress. Professor McGonagall was waiting for her there and the professor smiled at her when she arrived.

"My office isn't far," she said, and Hermione followed happily, wondering if the invitation to tea and biscuits was going to be like their letter exchanges except face-to-face, rather then by ink and parchment.

Professor McGonagall's office was a lot like her. It was very neat and orderly, there was a lot of tartan, a large bookshelf that was entirely filled, and a very small portrait of a younger Professor McGonagall with a man Hermione didn't recognise. There was already a pot of tea waiting for them and a container of gingersnap biscuits and Hermione happily sat down and took a sip of her tea.

"How are you settling in at Hogwarts, Miss Granger?" Professor McGonagall asked.

"Oh, please call me Hermione, at least if we're in private," Hermione said earnestly, "we've written to each other so much, it seems a bit strange to hear you say Miss Granger."

Professor McGonagall smiled. "Very well. How are you settling in at Hogwarts, Hermione?"

"Well, the classes are amazing, even if some of them they are a bit... easy," Hermione admitted, "and I won't lie and say there's no friction with my Housemates. Professor Snape may have mentioned there was a slight altercation yesterday–"

"If that's a 'slight' altercation, Hermione, I dread to think what a mild to moderate altercation might look like," Professor McGonagall interjected dryly, and Hermione smiled a bit sheepishly.

"–but I've got a plan to sort everything out," she said. "And it's not like I don't have any friends. I've actually got lots of friends! I've got Millie and Neville and I sit with Justin in some classes and with Dean and his friends in Study Hall– it's so nice, Professor!" she beamed. Professor McGonagall smiled fondly down at her.

"It does my heart quite a bit of good to hear that, Hermione." She said. "But there was another reason why I wanted to talk to you today."

"Oh?" Hermione asked, frowning as she tried to think of anything she'd done wrong recently.

"You're not being challenged in my class," Professor McGonagall told her. "And I daresay you're not being challenged in most of your classes, but my class in particular. Usually, I would advise for you to be moved up a year level, but in your case I think it's important that you maintain the social connections you've made. Would I be right in thinking that?"

"You would be," Hermione said quickly. "But... I am a bit bored sometimes," she had to admit.

"Which is why some of your professors who feel you're not being challenged in their classes, myself included, are going to organise to talk to you and, if you agree, assign you extracurricular projects that you will be expected to work on once you have finished the assigned classwork," Professor McGonagall explained. "If you're interested, I can put together the assignment over this weekend and present it to you in class next week. Would this be something you wish to pursue?"

"Yes," Hermione said instantly, her eyes shining. "Yes, definitely!"

Professor McGonagall smiled warmly at her enthusiasm. "Very well, I'll see that it is done. How you weren't a Ravenclaw, Hermione, I have no idea." She said, and Hermione laughed.

"Too ambitious, I think." She said.

"Perhaps," Professor McGonagall agreed. "Biscuit?" She offered the container of gingersnaps to Hermione.

"Yes please," Hermione said happily.

::

As Hermione stepped into the Slytherin common room after her meeting with Professor McGonagall, it was if she'd stepped into the eye of the storm; it was the brief moment of calm surrounded by the potential for violence in every direction and she knew she had been right about confrontation being inevitable.

She'd just challenged the Slytherins too much at this point; she was a muggleborn who'd been Sorted into Slytherin, she'd sat at different House tables, she'd invited Gryffindors to sit at the Slytherin table, she'd burned three Slytherins' wands– and it was only her fourth full day at Hogwarts. They had to be wondering how much more she could accomplish, should she stay longer. The thought must be terrifying to them.

It was Draco Malfoy who sauntered forwards to meet her. That didn't surprise Hermione; Slytherin House had a very clearly defined heirarchy of power. Because prefects were officially chosen by Dumbledore, who the Slytherins absolutely did not respect, they held no actual power within Slytherin House. Instead, one student from each year level took control of their year level– and she meant that very literally.

The position wasn't an elected one, nor was it just handed out to anyone who came along; no, one of the students had to take it. Ambition was, after all, one of Slytherin House's defining traits. Whether the position was taken through talent, charisma, power, brute force or connections, it didn't matter– all that did matter was that they took charge.

Hermione hadn't involved herself in any of the power plays– she didn't have any interest in them. She was happy to let Draco take charge of the other first years, but she bowed to no one but her god, and Millie was hers and she didn't share.

...okay, she really should have realised that sooner or later she and Draco were going to end up butting heads.

"Granger," Draco sneered.

"Malfoy," she replied, giving him her best imitation of Eris curling her lip as she stared down the waitress flirting with Váli.

"I'm surprised to see you here," Draco said snidely, "I thought you'd have moved into Gryffindor Tower by now, with the rest of the Mudbloods and Mudblood lovers– you're cozy enough with all that filth."

"You realise I've already earned over sixty points House points for Slytherin in less then a week?" Hermione retorted, just as snide. "What have you done that's of any benefit to our House, other than to bleat about my father this, and my father that?"

Draco scoffed. "I don't expect the likes of you to understand my father's importance–"

"Or to care," she interrupted sweetly, only to be interrupted in turn.

"Mudbloods don't belong in Slytherin," an older student interrupted them, shooting her a hateful look. "You're a disgrace to our House!"

Hermione turned her narrow-eyed look in his direction. She recognised him as having spoken up on the night of her Sorting– Higgs, Professor Snape had called him. He was popular in Slytherin as a member of the Quidditch team. Hermione had the strongest urge to set his broom on fire. Possibly while he was riding it.

Before she could say anything, however, someone else did.

"It's not your place to interrupt her, Higgs," spoke up that older Slytherin, the one whose name Hermione really needed to learn. He was clearly well-respected because the other students all looked to him as he spoke, even Higgs whose face turned sour. "Let the firsties sort themselves out," the older boy said, before grinning. "Then we can play with what's left."

Hermione tilted her head, unconsciously mimicking Vashti. "Sort ourselves out?"

"You're telling me you haven't noticed how we organise things?" He challenged her.

"It's not exactly complicated," Hermione shot back.

"Usually it isn't." The older boy agreed. "But this year... well, this year you're making things difficult for Malfoy here, when everyone was expecting him to be a sure thing."

Hermione looked coolly over at the scowling Draco. "I bow to nobody but my god." She said, and Draco's face twisted in distaste.

"Typical mudblood Christian*," he spat, and Hermione laughed, genuinely amused by the assumption.

"Oh I'm the furthest thing from it– my god thinks about as much of Christianity as you lot apparently do," she said– she still remembered how Loki had corrected an entire Bible once, complaining the entire time.

"You don't belong in Slytherin," Draco said, and Hermione could hear the complaining whine in his voice.

A display of power, proof you're worthy of respect, Eris had instructed.

A show of strength, a public humiliation, Fleur had advised.

Hermione took a deep breath, and stepped forward, her head held high and proud. 'Loki, I entreat to you, give me strength and courage and cunning for this fight, let me show them all why I am worthy of the gifts you have given me, let the blood I spill be in your Name' she prayed and almost immediately she could feel the rush of heat, the tingle of electricity, and any trace of hesitation was erased; the Faith of a god was formidable, for worshipper and god both.

"You think I don't belong?" she asked softly, dangerously. She smiled at Draco, who suddenly looked unsure. "Then why don't you prove it."

Hermione pressed the tip of her wand against her palm and, not casting any spell in particular, used the wand as a focus, channelling her magic to slice across her palm just deep enough to bleed as a sign of her control over her magic. She smiled her best trickster smile at Draco, the one that flashed sharp teeth and laughed at hidden jokes, as she put on her war paint, dragging her hand across her cheek and smearing the blood she refused to be ashamed of against her skin for them all to see. "I challenge you, Draco Malfoy. Witch to Wizard. Magic against Magic. Winner rules."

"Now this is interesting," the older Slytherin was grinning, approval lingering at the corners of his lips, calculated interest in his eyes. Draco didn't look nearly as enthusiastic.

::

The other Slytherins had all backed to the sides of the common, leaving the centre and the walls directly behind Hermione and Draco clear. Hermione could feel her magic swirling out around her like a cloak and her wand was humming eagerly in her hand. Draco's face was drawn tight, his left hand dripping blood from the cutting curse he'd cast, forced to accept the duel or lose face and be accued of cowardice.

Hermione smiled at him and with all the grace that martial arts gave her dipped into a curtsey. Draco bowed, short but dignified. The older Slytherin flicked his wand, conjuring a red silk square that fluttered slowly through the air. The moment it hit the ground, Draco slashed his wand at her.

"Densuego!" He yelled and Hermione swiftly raised a wordless shield, the jinx splashing harmlessly off the shimmering wall of golden magic. Draco scowled, slashing his wand again. "Bombarda**!" He shouted, and Hermione swore as the blasting curse dissipated the shield she'd been expecting to hold as she decided what spell to hit Draco with first and instead hit her.

It didn't hit her with enough power to break her ribs, but the wall behind her wasn't soft. She didn't stay where she'd fallen, she knew better then that, instead throwing herself to the side to avoid Draco's follow up curse, rolling and coming up on one knee, her wand out and pointed at the blond. "Well," she said faux-brightly, "I hope you enjoyed that, because it's the only hit you're going to get for the rest of this duel."

Draco sneered. "I'm going to make you crawl, mudblood."

Hermione pulled a face and let her inner-Loki out as she took the opportunity he was foolishly giving her to rise to her feet, sliding into a ready position; left foot forward, weight on her back foot. "Ew. We are way too young for that kind of kinky stuff. And you are so not my type." Hermione was amused to see how Draco's expression changed from confused to disgusted as he realised what she was implying.

Then, as Draco kept his eyes trained on the wand she was holding in her right hand, Hermione swept her left hand in a wide arc across her body, the wave of wandless magic she'd been trained in long before ever picking up a wand yanking one of the heavy coffee tables over and sending it crashing into a shocked Draco. He was knocked to the ground, his wand sent flying from his grasp and rolling out of reach from where he was pinned by the furniture. Hermione considered setting the table on fire but decided making anyone live through that sort of traumatic experience was a brand of cruel the blond ponce hadn't quite pushed her to.

Yet.

Remembering Fleur's advice to draw the duel out and 'play' with her opponent, she tapped her wand against her hip lazily as she walked towards Draco, remembering how Hati prowled and doing her best to imitate the languid, predatory walk. "Surely the scion to the ancient and noble House of Malfoy can do better than that," she taunted, "have you really been defeated by a piece of furniture?" With a put upon sigh when Draco only cursed at her, she flicked her hand, sending the coffee table tumbling back then casually kicked his wand back to him.

Face flushed pink with humiliation and rage, Draco snatched up his wand and stumbled back to his feet. Hermione smiled sweetly at him before ducking the cutting curse he sent at her head. It wasn't a particularly strong one, but it would have still made her bleed.

She was not going to let this boy make her bleed.

Knowing Draco wasn't going to fall for the same trick twice, Hermione spent the next several minutes evading his spells, making sure to make it look as effortless as possible just to rub salt in the wound, until the blond lost his temper and screamed, "fight back!" Hermione smiled at him, showing all her teeth.

"Oh, well, if you insist," she said, and she could feel her wand singing in anticipation as she twirled it in the movement she'd memorised last night when inspiration had struck her after reading Eris and Fleur's letters. "Serpensortia!"

The lithe grey snake with its flickering black tongue and coffin-shaped head that appeared in a burst of golden sparks was easy to recognise– not that it did Draco any good. After all, black mambas were the fastest species of snake in the world.

The entire common room seemed to have frozen as the black mamba swayed slightly in place, narrow neck-flap spread as it opened its inky-black mouth to hiss. Hermione smiled as it turned to her. She raised her hand to point to Draco and the black mamba turned too, its head following the direction she was pointing. "Bite him." She said. Then, because her Aunt Iona had raised her to have manners, she added, "please."

The black mamba moved forwards, faster then her eyes could track. Draco tried to summon a shield but he was too slow and the snake lunged; striking once, twice, thrice, before backing off. Draco dropped his wand, collapsing to the ground with a gasp. Hermione waved her hand, summoning Draco's wand and pocketing it. He didn't even notice it over his panic.

Hermione didn't really blame him– black mambas were one of the most venomous snakes in the world. Being bitten by one was worth panicking over. Also, he was probably in a lot of pain. She'd be feeling a lot worse for him, though, if he wasn't basically a baby Nazi– she was teaching him a lesson that would hopefully help him grow up to be a better person. That's what non-lethal just desserts were for.

Still, she wasn't finished with this little show for Slytherin House yet. "Hello love," Hermione cooed at the black mamba, leaning down and scooping the two and a half meter long snake off the ground without even a hint of hesitation.

'Hello Jörmungandr-kin,' the black mamba greeted her politely, and Hermione let the beautiful serpent wind around her waist and neck, completely unafraid of the incredibly deadly, dangerous snake and knowing that none of the watching Slytherins would miss that little fact.

Finally, she went to stand in front of Draco. He was trying not to cry, which was surprisingly brave of him– he must be in pain, frightened, extremely humiliated and at her mercy. She'd probably be crying if she was him. "I think you mentioned something about crawling," she mused. Draco sucked in a breath between his teeth and ducked his head. She could see how red his ears were, though.

"Lucky for you, I'm generous," Hermione decided to put him out of his misery. "You lost. To a mudblood. That's all the humiliation I need from you. I'll give your wand to Professor Snape, you can fetch it from him tomorrow morning. Oh, and here," she pulled one of her smallest potion phials from her pocket. It had several drops of liquid in it. "A cure for the venom." Actually, they were phoenix tears from Vashti– more of a 'cure all' then a specific cure. When she'd had the idea of conjuring a venomous snake she hadn't been about to do something so dangerous without knowing she had an antidote on hand.

Draco went still. He looked up very slowly, his grey eyes suddenly sharp as the red faded from his ears. "You planned this," he said slowly, even as he accepted the phial, pulling off the top and immediately downing the contents. His eyes widened and Hermione presumed the tears had done their job very quickly.

"Of course I did," Hermione said, smiling sharply down at him. "I'm not some hot-headed Gryffindor," she told him, told the whole damn House who were listening in, "I'm a Slytherin."

Draco was looking up at her now like he was having a revelation. It didn't look like it was a pleasant one. "Yes," he said slowly, "yes, you are."

“And now,” Hermione continued, “you know what happens if you piss me off. I’m here to learn magic, not get involved in your little power-plays and squabbles. You can be whatever you want to the rest of our year level, but leave me and mine out of it, understand? Because you know exactly what I'll do if you cross the line again. And next time, there won't be an antidote."

While Hermione had been speaking, the black mamba serpent had found one of the slits in Hermione's robes she used to access her blades and had been slithering through and winding herself around Hermione's bare torso– it was the lure of body heat, she supposed– and Draco had been watching with a sort of pale, sick fascination.

“Doesn’t that creep you out?” he seemed unable to stop himself from asking as he pushed himself to his feet. Hermione didn’t help, only watched with impassive eyes, knowing that to help him in this moment would be seen as a weakness on her part.

"No, why would it?" Hermione asked. "She's a sweetheart."

"The bite-marks she left on me say differently," Draco muttered.

"Yes," Hermione said, and gave him a gentle smile that had him looking wary. "But she understands that I'm a predator, while you're just prey. Don't you, lovely one?" she asked. The black mamba poked her head out above the neckline of Hermione's robes, under her chin, and flickered her black tongue. Draco flinched. "Careful," Hermione said sweetly, "she can taste your fear."

Draco stepped back.

That was when Millie finally marched over and shoved a handkerchief into the hand Hermione wasn't holding a wand in. When Hermione blinked at her in confusion, Millie sighed and gestured at her face. "You've got blood on your cheek." She pointed out.

"Ah," Hermione remembered the earlier theatrics. "Right. Aguamenti." She absently waved her wand over the handkerchief, soaking it before stashing her wand in her pocket and picking the now wet square of fabric up and scrubbing the side of her face clean from the dried, tacky blood.

"You're insane, by the way," Millie told her.

"I told you I was going to win," Hermione said.

"I know," Millie said. "And I don't know if I should be happy you did, or horrified because it might encourage you to get in more situations like this."

"I think this turned out well," Hermione protested. Millie sighed.

"At least you won."

"Yes, she did," it was the older Slytherin. He looked satisfied as he stopped beside them and Hermione was reminded of their audience. "Malfoy," the Slytherin boy nodded at Draco, who nodded back stiffly, before he turned back to Hermione. "Ignatius Rosier," he finally introduced himself, holding out his hand. The black mamba, still with her head under Hermione's chin, hissed, likely in response to the uptick in Hermione's heart rate. She didn't let it show on her face as she reached out to shake Rosier's hand.

"Hermione Granger," she replied– she recognised the surname 'Rosier' from 'Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts'. Ignatius Rosier couldn't be Evan Rosier's son, Evan Rosier was too young– a brother, maybe? But it didn't matter, Hermione told herself firmly. Nobody was defined by their parents, after all. Influenced, yes, but influences could be fought.

Rosier smiled at her, his eyes gleaming like a wolf on a hunt. "Welcome to Slytherin, Hermione Granger."

::

*Obviously no offence meant to the Christians of the world! The Purebloods are just a bit sore about the witch burnings :P

**The reason I think Draco would be capable of using magic like that already is because there's no way Lucius and Narcissa weren't already training him before Hogwarts. Like, absolutely no way. And making things explode can't be too difficult, seeing as it happens with accidental magic so often.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER ELEVEN:

and then I conjured up a black mamba and told it to attack Draco which it did, but don’t worry I had phoenix tears ready to heal him, so I won and I’m pretty sure I looked really, really awesome too. Except Strikes-Like-A-Lightning-Flash– that’s the snake’s name, but I shorten it to Ash because she’s a grey-ish colour like ashes and her name is really long– really likes Hogwarts and doesn’t want to go back to the zoo where it turns out I summoned her from. 

Did you know conjured animals are really actually displaced animals? It makes sense, of course– it’s a fundamental rule of magic that you can’t create something from nothing. Of course, you can, but you’re a god. The rules don’t apply to you – not to mention, I don’t think you’ve ever come across a rule you haven’t walked all over. Anyway, I have to go to breakfast and then I have my first Potions class. I miss you!

All my love,

Hermione

“I don’t know if this is better or worse then when she managed to stumble across a fucking Elder god,” Gabriel groaned while Váli practically howled with laughter and Hati smirked proudly. “What the fuck have you two been teaching her? She set one of the deadliest snakes on the planet on a classmate of hers!”

“What have we been teaching her?” Hati asked, arching an eyebrow. “Oh grandfather dearest, just who do you think has been the biggest influence on her life growing up? Because it hasn’t been us.”

“How does she even get into these situations?” Gabriel asked despairingly. “I did tell you about the Elder god, right?”

“In great length and detail,” Hati said as Váli, who had just managed to gain control of himself, broke down into laughter again.

“How?” Gabriel groaned. “How?

The presence of an Elder god at Hogwarts didn’t concern him in itself. The eldritch beings originated from the Empty and, much like the archangels, were older then the Earth itself. They were also largely uninterested in it. Like reapers, they were about as neutral as it got, except while reapers were neutral to keep the Balance, the Old Ones were neutral because they genuinely did not give a fuck.

Except, of course, Hermione had somehow managed to find the one Elder god who seemed curious enough about humanity that not only had it lingered for a thousand years, but it had recognised and greeted her.

“She’s your priestess,” Váli said, as if the answer to his despair was obvious. “She courts chaos, as she should. It is a form of worship and she is most devout.”

“She does cause the most beautiful chaos,” Gabriel had to admit.

“So stop panicking and have a little faith in her,” Váli told him. “Clearly, she knew what she was doing. She had an antidote ready, didn’t she? It was a calculated move, not something she decided to try in the heat of the moment. And just think of the look on the faces of her Housemates when a mudblood had the symbol of their House attack a pureblood– she couldn’t have chosen a better way to crush their pride under her foot and humiliate the little shit who’s been causing her so much trouble.” Váli looked genuinely impressed. “Eris is going to be so proud of her.”

Gabriel paused. “Excuse me?” he asked slowly, dangerously. “Who did you say has been ‘causing her so much trouble’?”

“Ah,” Váli said. “Right. Forgot I probably wasn’t supposed to mention that to you.”

Gabriel smiled. It wasn’t a pleasant smile. Váli tried to make a hasty retreat, only to find himself frozen on the spot. “Oh shit,” he sighed. “Eris is going to be so pissed at me.” Gabriel just continued to smile at him.

“Talk.” He ordered.

“Look,” Váli said, “I don’t know many details,”

“Then tell me what you do know."

“Urgh,” Váli groaned. “Ever consider that this is why Hermione didn’t tell you? But fine, fine, whatever. Look, you know that she was having some difficulties with the Slytherins accepting her. Some of them apparently took it a little further then name-calling. She was never injured, we’ve trained her better than that, but she was attacked a few times–”

Above them, the suddenly dark skies rumbled threateningly and a flash of lightning briefly lit up the gathering storm clouds.

“–and she, of course, kicked arse, took names, burned a couple of wands, and held her own,” Váli finished firmly. “She decided to deal with it herself, so you need to respect her decision. If she goes running to you with every problem she has, she can never grow into herself as a person. I know it’s hard to let her go, believe me I do– I’ve actually grown fond of her too, believe it or not, but she’s growing up and she’s just started this new, exciting adventure of her own. She has faith in you, faðir– do you have faith in her?”

Gabriel sighed, slumping in place as he released his son. “I hate it when you make sense,” he muttered.

“It sucks,” Váli said bluntly, “I’m not denying that, believe me. But Hermione’s never going to not need you. Remember that, okay? You are her god, she loves you more then anything else in this world. And that? That will never change.”

::

When Hermione woke up on Friday morning, it was with a smile on her face. Dressing in her robes, she magicked her curls into milkmaid braids, threading ribbons charmed silver and green through the braids. Vashti had returned from delivering her letter to Loki the night before and Hermione took the time to write out a recounting of what had happened for Fleur, kissing her phoenix on her feathery head before handing her the letter. Vashti cooed, nibbling Hermione’s nose before disappearing in a small burst of golden flame.

Ash, who was so far proving stubbornly resistant to Vashti returning her to the zoo she’d been displaced from– Hermione didn’t actually blame her and hadn’t pushed her too hard, most zoos were awful– had coiled herself up under Hermione’s robes again, making her look slightly bulky, but black mambas were a very lithe, slender breed of snake, even if they were long, and Madam Malkin had made Hermione’s robes loose enough that she had growing room. When Hermione fastened her cloak over her robes, she was pleased to see Ash’s presence almost wasn’t noticeable at all and Ash promised that she would stay hidden.

Hermione pulled open the heavy green drapes of her four-poster bed and smiled at Millie who was waiting for her. “Excited for our first Potions lesson?” she asked.

“Probably not as excited as you,” Millie said.

“But we’ll be in the same class as Neville!” Hermione said brightly and Millie managed a small smile at that reminder.

Together, the two of them made their way down to the common room, only to stop short when they saw who was waiting there. Rosier smiled at them. “Heading to the Great Hall for breakfast?” he asked smoothly. “Excellent, I’ll join you.”

Hermione had the feeling this wasn’t the sort of offer she could refuse without horribly offending the older Slytherin, so she just smiled and nodded. “We’ve just been talking about our first Potions lesson,” she said as they left the common room, ignoring the looks the three of them were getting from the other Slytherins present. “Have you got any tips for us?”

“Depends which House you’re sharing the class with,” Rosier said.

“The Gryffindors,” Hermione answered promptly and Rosier laughed.

“Well you’re in luck then,” he said. “Anyone in a green-and-silver tie will do no wrong and anyone in red-and-gold will do no right.”

That… seemed unfair, but Hermione knew better then to voice such childish thoughts. Instead, she just nodded. “I wonder if I could get my total number of House points earned this week up to eighty, then,” she mused. “That would really be something to rub in Malfoy’s face.”

“It would probably break some sort of Hogwarts record,” Rosier said, before smirking. “And while I’m all for humiliating Malfoy, it would be hard to top yesterday. Not only did you thrash him soundly in the duel, but you completely undermined any sort of authority he has as leader of the first years, because everyone knows he’s only at the top because you're not interested. If you want to take it at any time, you can and you will– he knows it and so does everybody else. That’s a far more humiliating and drawn out punishment then just taking the position from him altogether. More like a gut wound that lets him bleed out slowly over hours or days, instead of just slitting his throat and been done with it.”

“Actually, someone can survive a while with a slit throat,” Hermione said absently, more focused on the disturbing the thought that the Slytherins were seeing a deeper motive in her letting Draco continue to lead the first years (apart from her and Millie, of course) then she’d intended, “it depends on which tissues are severed, specifically the trachea, carotid or jugular.”

“Oh Hermione,” Millie sighed as Rosier looked very amused, and Hermione glanced over at her, confused.

“What?”

Millie shook her head. “Never mind.”

They entered the Great Hall together and Hermione didn’t miss the momentary hush that settled over the Slytherin table as Rosier subtly steered her and Millie away from their usual spot closest to the staff table– the bottom of the hierarchy– and instead to the seats closer to the doors leading to the entrance hall.

“You’re making me do politics,” Hermione said sadly, looking up at Rosier with mournful eyes. “I don’t like politics.”

“I know,” he said, faux-sympathetically, patting her head. Then he sat down and gestured to the seat next to him in a blatantly clear instruction. Hermione contemplated turning around and going to go sit with Neville at the Gryffindor table instead but decided that she didn’t want to undo all the hard work she’d just put into winning over Slytherin House and slid into place, Millie sitting down next to her, looking uncomfortable.

“Some introductions are in order, I think,” Rosier said, nodding at the four boys of similar age seated around them as Hermione grabbed four pieces of buttered toast when Millie seemed too nervous to move, placing two on her friend’s plate and two on her own.

“Marcus Flint,” the tall, relatively muscular boy with a thick neck and front teeth even more prominent then her own introduced himself. Next to him was a boy just as tall but far more handsome with tousled light brown hair, chiselled features and a smile playing on his full-lipped mouth.

“Cassius Warrington,” he introduced himself, with an easy smile.

Sitting beside Warrington was a familiar-looking boy; he was shorter than the other two, with ash-blond hair, a sharp nose and a thin mouth. “Luther Robbards,” he said, and he sounded amused. “I believe you met my brother, Mathis.”

“To be fair,” Hermione said, thinking of the trio who had ambushed her two days ago, one who she remembered Professor Snape and the Weasley twins referring to as ‘Robbards’, “he shouldn’t have tried to set me on fire.”

“No,” Robbards said with a laugh. “He really shouldn’t have.”

“It was very un-Slytherin of him,” said the final boy, the one who hadn’t introduced himself yet. He was similar in appearance to Rosier; they shared the same slighter build, fine features, pale skin and very dark hair. Where his eyes were as dark as his hair, however, Rosier’s were a pale blue-green, like sea-glass. “Not waiting to get all the facts before alienating possible allies is just plain clumsy,” the boy continued, “he should have realised that Iggy noticed her at the Welcome Feast.” He then smiled at Hermione, and she trusted his smile just as much as she trusted Rosier’s. “Rainier Lestrange,” he said, and oh, she recognised that surname too. “Delighted to meet you, Miss Granger. And of course, Miss Bulstrode.”

There was no insincerity in his tone. Somehow, that was worse. It meant he was a good liar.

Hermione smiled back, bright as sunshine, sweet as spun sugar, because she was a good liar too.

“Delighted to meet you too.” She said and Millie managed a jerky sort of smile, apparently completely out of her element. Hermione didn’t blame her.

“So, how are you both enjoying classes?” Rosier asked.

“They’re interesting,” Hermione said, all sweet and earnest, “but most of them are also a bit too easy.”

“Easy?” Robbards asked, looking amused. Hermione nodded.

“Yes, but Professor McGonagall invited me to tea and biscuits yesterday,” she said, “and we discussed the possibility of advancing me a year level or two in most of my classes as I wasn’t being challenged, but back in the muggle world I ended up skipping about six years ahead of my age-mates altogether which made it difficult to make friends.” She smiled again, still sweet but sharper now. “So Professor McGonagall is arranging for several of my professors to put together extracurricular projects for me to work on when I’ve finished my assigned classwork.”

“Alright,” Warrington said, turning slightly to nod at Rosier, who was leaning back and smiling smugly. “I can see it now. You were right.”

“Of course I was.” He smirked.

Hermione really did not enjoy the thought that she’d been a topic of conversation between them before this. She also didn’t like feeling so unnerved and off-balance and decided to try turning the tables on the older boys slightly. Glancing about the breakfast table, she flicked out her hand, sending out a wave of magic that yanked a rasher of bacon over.

“Hey precious,” she murmured, glad that Vashti wasn’t around to get jealous, “are you hungry, my love?”

Yes!’ Ash replied eagerly, uncurling slightly from where she was half-dozing with her head nestled just under the small of Hermione’s throat. Hermione, making sure she was turned just-so, so that her shoulder blocked the view from the staff table, shifted her cloak, moving the clasp to the side. Immediately, Ash poked her head out the small gap and opened her inky black mouth wide, deadly fangs glistening as she eagerly accepted the offering of bacon.

“Oh shit,” Warrington reacted first, flinching back despite himself. Robbards and Flint had similar reactions, but Rosier and Lestrange just seemed intrigued.

“You still haven’t vanished her?” Lestrange asked, actually leaning around Rosier to get a closer look at the black mamba swallowing the bacon rasher whole.

“Conjured animals don’t appear out of nothing, you know,” Hermione told him. “I can’t just vanish her, who knows where she’d end up! It could kill her if she ended up in the wrong environment for her species! No, I’m keeping her until I can find somewhere to safely re-home her. Not that she seems very keen on going anywhere– Cuddles would be a better name for her then Strikes-Like-A-Lightning-Flash,” this she directed at Ash, who hissed indignantly, butting the top of her head on Hermione’s chin. “Oh, you’re fooling nobody, little madam,” Hermione teased, reaching to tickle Ash’s nose. Ash flicked her black tongue out against Hermione’s fingers and Hermione smiled.

“Strikes-Like-A-Lightning-Flash?” Rosier asked, watching with an expression of great interest. Hermione shrugged.

“I just call her Ash for short,” she said, purposefully misunderstanding the question.

The school bells rang then, in a literal ‘saved by the bell’, and Hermione smiled at her breakfast companions. “It was nice to meet you all,” she said. “Mostly because Malfoy’s face turned about five different shades of red and purple when he saw Millie and I sitting here, but it was fun.”

“Let’s do it again,” Rosier suggested.

“Yes, let’s.” Hermione agreed brightly.

Damn.

::

Severus should be accustomed to being surprised by Hermione Granger by now. He really should be. And yet, on Friday morning, when she waltzed into the Great Hall crowned in silver-and-green and bright as anything at Ignatius Rosier’s side, he was surprised. 

“Oh dear,” he heard Minerva say from beside him and Severus quite agreed.

“This should be interesting,” he murmured.

Ignatius Rosier was the younger brother of Evan Rosier, who, along with his father Erich Rosier, was currently serving a life sentence in Azkaban for being a member of the Dark Lord’s inner circle. His mother, Inga Rosier, had passed away during the war, ostensibly due to a case of dragonpox, but the rumours were she’d been hit by a rebounding curse during a raid while wearing a skull mask. This left Ignatius with the dubious pleasure of being raised by his grandfather, who according to Albus was an old schoolmate of the Dark Lord.

Why Rosier would be associating with Granger made about as much sense as anything about that girl did. Glancing over at Minerva, Severus could see she looked about as bewildered as he felt– Quirrell, however, looked far too interested and it made Severus’s eyes narrow.

There was something off about Quirrell this year. He’d always been a spineless worm of a man, but somehow it was even worse this year.

“Oh, she’s trouble, that one,” Minerva sighed, and Severus turned back to Hermione and his eyes widened. Granger and her friend, the bastard daughter of one of the ancient and noble lords, had just sat down with Rosier and his circle of ‘friends’.

Severus made it his business to keep himself aware of the hierarchy of power in Slytherin, ever-shifting in the younger year levels before becoming firmly established in the final year or two. He had a strict non-interference policy, as it was good practice for the outside world for his Slytherins, but it was better for everyone that he kept himself in the loop. Rosier’s circle of ‘friends’ were firmly established at the top, though he knew the official hierarchy within their group had yet to be established.

Inviting Granger and her friend to eat with them was a blatant display of their approval of Hermione Granger’s Sorting into Slytherin House. It wasn’t quite placing her under their protection, but their approval was no inconsequential matter, particularly when one considered her blood status. Somehow, Granger had impressed them– or caught their interest. 

As breakfast drew to a close, Severus wished he was surprised when Granger came up to him, like the doe-eyed little innocent she wasn’t.

“Yes, Miss Granger?” he asked in such a long-suffering tone that he saw Minerva duck her head to hide a smile. Traitorous witch.

Granger’s eyes glittered with laughter as she, of course, pulled yet another Merlin-damned wand from the pocket of her robes. “I think this will be the last one, Professor,” she said, as she handed it over, “we all had a little chat last night, so I don’t think I’ll be finding wands laying around the common room anymore.”

A little… chat. Well, that could mean any number of things.

“And whose wand is this, may I ask?” He queried.

“Oh, well, if I’d known, I would have returned it, of course, professor” Granger demurred.

"Of course," he deadpanned. "But if you had to guess?"

"Hm," Granger said, "well, if I had to guess, it does look a bit like like Draco Malfoy’s, don’t you think?”

And with one last sweet smile, Hermione turned and basically skipped away.

“You poor man,” Minerva said in commiseration and Severus could only groan. 

::

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TWELVE:

Hermione had been looking forward to Potions all week. Chemistry had been one of her four chosen A-Levels and she was eager to see how Potions compared. She’d already devoured her copies of ‘Magical Drafts and Potions’, One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi’ and ‘The Potioneers Guide to Preparation’ as well as a good chunk of Sylvianne’s healer’s treatise, which included a number of potions.

Millie seemed amused by her enthusiasm but Hermione couldn’t help it. She’d never stop being in love with magic. Everything she loved in her life had been brought to her because of magic; her god, living with her aunt and uncle, coming to Hogwarts, her friends at Hogwarts… how could she not love magic?

Hermione was well acquainted with the dungeons of Hogwarts and easily found the classroom. It was a bit eerie looking, with all the pickled animals floating around in glass jars, but Hermione thought they added a particular sort of ambiance. Ash did not appreciate the colder temperature of the room, winding her way tighter around Hermione and sticking her head under Hermione’s armpit, which caused her to twitch slightly as it tickled.

The Gryffindors arrived a couple of minutes after the Slytherins and Hermione and Millie headed over to Neville, who smiled shyly at them. Dean and Harry also waved hello to her and Millie, while Seamus and Ron managed to put aside their Slytherin prejudice enough to nod in their direction.

Professor Snape swept into the classroom in a whirl of his dark robes and cloak. Utter silence followed in his wake as he made his way to the front of the classroom and Hermione stared, wide-eyed and eager, as he began by taking the roll.

It was after that that things started to turn ugly.

Professor Snape, it seemed, did not like poor Harry.

“Potter!” he snapped, causing half the class to jump. “What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?”

Hermione blinked. What sort of question was that? Obviously, the answer was the Draught of Living Death, though if the asphodel was harvested under a blue moon then it would be the Draught of Ever-Lasting sleep, which unlike the Draught of Living Death had no known cure to wake the drinker up. But she only knew that because she’d memorised both of their assigned text-books, as well as her Astronomy text-book, and she doubted most students had.

“I don’t know, sir,” poor Harry answered, looking quite anxious. She didn’t blame him. Professor Snape seemed to be in a mood. Perhaps her stunt this morning hadn’t been her brightest idea, and now Harry was the sacrificial lamb on her altar of chaos.

Professor Snape’s lip curled into a sneer. “Tut, tut– fame clearly isn’t everything,” he said. “Let’s try again. Potter, where would you look if I told you to find me a bezoar?”

Harry looked relieved this time– it seemed he’d followed her advice on the train to read at least the first chapter of each of his text-books before attending the class. A bezoar would have been covered in the first chapter of ‘One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi’.

“In the stomach of a goat, sir,” he stammered. Professor Snape’s lips thinned and Hermione wondered if perhaps it would have been better for Harry if he hadn’t known the answer after all.

“It seems you did manage to crack open a book before coming to my class,” he said. “Let’s see how far you managed to get. Tell me, Potter, what’s the difference between monkshood and wolfsbane?”

“I don’t know,” Harry said quietly. Professor Snape’s lip curled.

“Clearly,” he said.

Poor Harry, Hermione thought again. Rosier’s earlier explanation that Slytherins could do no wrong while Gryffindors could do no right was making a lot of sense right now. Still, nobody could say she wasn’t opportunistic enough to not take advantage of the situation – she wanted those eighty points total – and if it helped take the attention of Harry, well, that was just a convenient side-effect.

Politely, Hermione raised her hand in the air and Professor Snape immediately turned to her. “Do you have the answer, Miss Granger?” he asked.

“I do, professor,” she said, very politely. “Powdered root of asphodel added to an infusion of wormwood is the final step of the sleeping potion known as the Draught of Living Death. Or if the asphodel was harvested under a blue moon, the poison known as the Draught of Ever-Lasting Sleep. Monkshood and wolfsbane are different names for ‘aconitum’, a genus of over two hundred and fifty species of flowering plants belonging to the Ranunculaceae family. Other known names include aconite, devil’s helmut, queen of poisons, leopard’s bane, mousebane, women’s bane and blue rocket. As the names imply, most of the species are extremely poisonous.”

Professor Snape stared at her for a moment after she stopped talking, before spinning around and glaring at the rest of the class. “Well?” he demanded. “Why aren’t you writing that down?” In the scramble for quills, ink and parchment, he turned back to her and nodded. “I see you’ve done the reading, Miss Granger.”

“I’ve been looking forward to this class,” Hermione admitted, “I did my A-level for Chemistry– oh, Chemistry is–”

“I know what Chemistry is,” Professor Snape interrupted her and Hermione blushed.

“Sorry, sir,” she said. “Anyway, I’m just really looking forward to seeing the difference and similarities between the two fields.”

Professor Snape nodded. “You will find there to be overlap,” he said, “many of the basic laws remain constant; Avogadro’s Law, Multiple Proportions, Ideal Gas Law, Definite Composition– they all remain applicable, you just need to learn how magic fits into the equation.”

Hermione stared up at Professor Snape with wide, shining eyes. He was speaking in a language she understood! He was using muggle terminology to describe magical concepts! Her Head of House might be bullying Harry, and she was definitely going to have to figure out how to get some just desserts for poor Harry without getting caught, but he was still amazing!

“Are there any books on the subject?” she asked eagerly. “Or do you have office hours?”

“My office hours are reserved for OWL and NEWT level students, I’m afraid,” he told her, and she could swear there was a flicker of something that was almost amusement in his eyes, “but if you truly interested, you should subscribe to the Potioneers Monthly. The library also keeps a stock of the back issues for the last, oh, hundred or so years.”

“That should take her about a week or two, then,” Millie said. “Sir,” she added, seeing Professor Snape arch an intimidating dark brow.

“The instructions are on the board,” their Head of House ordered, before turning to face Neville, who let out a squeak. “Will you be working as a group of… three?” He looked unimpressed by this.

“Yes we are, sir,” Hermione said firmly, meeting Professor Snape’s eyes and not backing down. After a moment, he dipped his chin.

“Very well. Collect your ingredients,” he said, turning to leave before briefly pausing to look over his shoulder. “Oh, and Miss Granger? Twenty points to Slytherin for an exemplary answer,” he said, a slight smirk playing on the edges of his thin mouth before sweeping off, cloak swirling out behind him as he went off to go terrorise the other Gryffindors.

“Oh Merlin, he’s scary,” Neville breathed. “How do you stand up to him like that, Hermione?” The Gryffindor boy looked over at her with wide eyes. Hermione shrugged.

“My friends are scarier,” she said, thinking of the mad gleam in Eris’s eyes; of tall, fair Váli rage whose rage had teeth and claws; of Hati’s wildness and their thirst for blood; of mighty Jörmungandr and the terrifying skin he wore; and Loki, her god, who called upon thunderstorms and made the earth tremble. “And so are my enemies.” She added.

“Malfoy’s not that scary,” Millie said.

“Oh, he’s not my enemy,” Hermione said, surprised. “He’s more of an annoyance.”

At their nearby cauldron, she heard Harry and Ron both stifle amused snorts and bit back her own smile.

“You have enemies besides the Slytherins?” Neville asked, sounding mystified. “But you’re so nice!”

“Oh you sweet thing,” Hermione said fondly, even as Millie, who was much wiser to her ways, patted him on the back. “Stay innocent, Nev.”

Millie sent Hermione to go get their ingredients while she and Neville started the fire under their cauldron. She bumped into Harry at the store cupboard and smiled brightly at him. “Hi Harry,” she said cheerfully.

“Hey Hermione,” Harry smiled carefully at her. She noticed that his glasses were taped over at the centre and frowned, wondering why nobody had bothered fixing them yet. Pulling out her wand, she asked,

“Do you mind?”

“Um,” Harry looked confused, “sure…?”

Reparo!” She tapped his glasses, smiling at how he went cross-eyed, trying to keep track of the tip of her wand. There was a brief spark of gold as her wand gave a smug little hop in her hand and Harry blinked as the now useless piece of tape floated down to the ground. “There,” she said, pocketing her wand and turning back to the ingredients. “All fixed.”

“Thanks,” Harry said, surprised. “That’s a useful spell.”

“I’ll show it to you later, if you like,” she offered. “Sorry about earlier, by the way. I was trying to turn the attention away from you. I wasn’t meaning to show you up.”

“No, it was my fault,” Harry said, shaking his head with a rueful look on his face. “You did warn me, after all. I was the one who didn’t read his text-book. I’ve definitely learned my lesson.”

“They were weird questions, though,” Hermione mused. “The second two were fine, but the first? Only someone with an absurdly good memory would remember the final step to a potion with thirty-seven steps–”

“Thirty-seven?” Harry said, surprised.

“And it’s not even assessable material for first years,” she continued, before shrugging. “Like I said, it’s strange.”

“Honestly? I think Professor Snape just doesn’t like me,” Harry admitted.

“Yes, I’m getting that impression too,” Hermione admitted, “well, good luck with your potion today!” she said before heading back to Neville and Millie, rolling up the sleeves of her robes as she approached them.

The Potioneers Guide to Preparation’ had talked about how important it was to measure out each ingredient to the precise ounce. It had also discussed how the difference between a slice, a dice and a chop could mean the difference between life or death, should a potion react badly and explode. She lectured both Millie and Neville on this in great detail until Neville seemed too afraid to even touch the ingredients. Millie took pity on him and set the poor boy on the task of crushing the snake fangs to a fine powder– not a grit, Hermione sternly told him.

Professor Snape nodded approvingly as he walked past their cauldron, though he seemed reluctant to voice any praise when they were working with a Gryffindor. Hermione found herself enjoying the indecision he must be struggling with; the need to reward his Slytherins, yet never, ever positively acknowledge a Gryffindor. Perhaps this could be his just desserts. 

There was one moment of almost-disaster when Neville almost added the porcupine quills before they’d taken the cauldron off the fire, but Hermione snatched his wrist back before he could and Millie hastily moved their cauldron off the flames.

Unfortunately, Draco had witnessed this and let out a nasty laugh. So far, Draco had been mostly silent during the lesson. Hermione had been hoping that the humiliating loss from the night before would keep his mouth shut for longer, but apparently not.

“It’s a good thing you’ve got those two here to hold your hand and wipe your arse for you, Longbottom, seeing as you’re too brain-dead to do it yourself,” the blond mocked, “like mummy and daddy, like son, I suppose.”

Hermione watched as Neville went white. It was clear that Draco had crossed a line, likely lashing out in response to the humiliation he’d suffered last night. He couldn’t hurt her, and he couldn’t hurt Millie because she was protected, but Neville didn’t fall under that same purview of protection, as he wasn’t a Slytherin. But Neville was still hers, and she didn’t care what the backstory behind Draco’s comment was, she just knew that Neville’s breath was coming too fast and Millie was holding him like she was either holding him up or holding him back.

“Oh, so you’re the only one who’s allowed to have bodyguards follow you around waiting on you hand and foot?” she asked loudly, stepping forwards and sliding so she was standing in front of Neville, blocking his view of Draco.

Enough.” Professor Snape’s voice was cold. “Miss Bulstrode, please escort Mister Longbottom to the Hospital Wing. Tell Madam Pomfrey that he requires a Calming Draught. Mister Malfoy, collect your belongings then wait at my office. Everybody else, complete your potion and speak only to your partner. Twenty-five House points will be taken from anyone who breaks this rule.”

Hermione turned and hugged Neville, squeezing him tight, though being careful not to crush Ash as she did so. Neville didn’t even seem to notice. “Look after him,” she whispered to Millie, who nodded, a fierce look on her face.

“We’re going to kick Malfoy’s arse.” She said, and Hermione smiled, sharp as shattered glass.

“Oh we absolutely are.”

After Millie and Neville left, Hermione completed their potion alone. She didn’t have any trouble– it was already nearly finished and the recipe was a simple one– and at the end of class she bottled the perfect end product then cleaned up the work-space, all the while thinking furiously.

“Miss Granger, remain behind after class.” Professor Snape told her as she handed in her potion sample. She held back a cringe.

“Yes, sir,” she said.

She waited at her desk until all the students had filed out, Harry and, surprisingly, Ron lingering in the doorway of the classroom for a moment before finally stepping through. She then walked up to the front of the class where Professor Snape waited, wondering if this was about the altercation with Malfoy or the black mamba hiding under her robes.

To her surprise, it was neither.

“Those are very interesting bracelets you are wearing, Miss Granger,” Professor Snape commented and Hermione’s eyes widened as her eyes darted down. She’d rolled up her sleeves earlier, exposing both her charm bracelet and the braided leather one. Neither Millie or Neville had commented on them and she’d honestly forgotten.

“I’m sorry for breaking the uniform rules, sir,” she apologised.

“I don’t care about that,” Professor Snape said, an edge of impatience in his voice. “I’m more interested in the fact you’re wearing a devil’s trap on your wrist, Miss Granger– as well as silver and iron, if I’m not mistaken. Those are the tools of a hunter.”

Hermione’s eyes widened. “I’m not a hunter,” she said in surprise.

“Of course not, you’re a child,” Professor Snape said. “Your parents, however…” he gave her a meaningful look.

Hermione almost gaped at him. “My parents are dentists!”

“Nobody wears a devil’s trap on a charm bracelet by accident, Miss Granger,” Professor Snape said.

“I swear, sir, I’m not a hunter and nobody in my family is,” Hermione said, “look–” she held out her wrist, showing him the bracelet up close. “Those really shiny silver runes? They’re protection runes. They’re for protection, just like the silver, iron and devil’s trap is. I have a friend who is really into the occult who made me this bracelet. No hunter made this bracelet for me and I can swear it on my magic if that makes you feel better.”

“There’s no need to go to such lengths, Miss Granger,” Professor Snape said, after giving her a considering look. “But I would take care who sees that bracelet. Devil’s traps are associated with hunters and hunters are not looked upon kindly in our society.”

Hermione nodded quickly. “Thank you for the warning, sir,” she said.

“I also wished to discuss the incident with Mister Malfoy,” her Head of House said and Hermione felt her jaw tighten as she remembered Neville’s face. Under her robes, Ash responded to her anger by shifting in place. “You must tread carefully, Miss Granger,” Professor Snape said quietly. “Mister Malfoy is a Slytherin and Mister Longbottom is a Gryffindor. To be seen favouring the latter over the former could put you in a… difficult position.”

Hermione lifted her chin high. “I understand, professor,” she said. “But Neville is my friend. And Malfoy crossed a line.”

Professor Snape stared at her for a moment then nodded. “Very well,” he said. “You are dismissed, Miss Granger.”

As she walked to the door of the classroom, Hermione wondered if conjuring up some tansy and thistle to weave into her curls would be too subtle for the likes of Draco Malfoy. Wearing a declaration of war and retaliation in her would be satisfying, even if it went over his head, she decided. There were so many things that could be said with flowers… and oh, she realised, stopping short just before the doorway. Oh.

Asphodel, a lily; my regrets follow you to the grave.

Wormwood; regret, bitterness, consequences of sin.

There was a story there, Hermione was sure. Her Head of House looked about the right age to have gone to Hogwarts at the same time as Harry’s mother. But it wasn’t her secret to tell, and if Professor Snape had wanted Harry to know he would have chosen a different medium of communication. Still, Hermione felt the need to acknowledge her professor’s grief– losing someone was not something you ever got over, not truly– and conjuring flowers was something she was well-practiced in.

A quick flare of magic later, she turned back to her professor who gave her an impatient look. “Yes, Miss Granger?”

“I’m sorry for your loss, Professor,” she blurted out, sending the flowers levitating over with a soft wave of magic. Then, she turned back and hastily exited the classroom where waiting for her outside were Harry Potter and Ron Weasley.

::

Severus stood frozen, the two flowers he’d instinctively caught resting innocently against his unfurled palms. A white poppy and a white daisy. Consolation and I’ll never tell. What a frustratingly clever little girl. He should have remembered the nasturtiums she’d worn in her hair, the day she’d beaten Bole, Dormer and Robbards in a duel when the three idiots attempted to ambush her. He hadn’t given it a thought– the language of flowers was an outdated thing, even in the magical world– but he should have; nasturtiums meant conquest; victory in battle.

He knew flower language because Marigold Evans, Lily’s mother, had adored it and she’d taught both her daughters. Lily had then taught him, because she’d liked the idea of them having a secret language that the two of them could talk in. One of the first things they’d done at Hogwarts was learn how to conjure flowers. Before that, they used to search around the neighbourhood for all the flowers they could find and levitate them to each other, with the sort of wild, untamed magic that only children possessed.

It had almost been like a scene out of his childhood, watching little Hermione Granger levitate those flowers over to him. Oh, she looked nothing like Lily; Lily was all deep, wine-red hair and porcelain-fair skin, compared to Hermione’s dark tan, and chaotic mass of chestnut-caramel curls, but the bright eyes, the careless ease she had over wandless magic, the flowers…

He let out a shuddering breath, closing his eyes as a single tear rolled down his cheek. “Ten points to Slytherin,” he murmured quietly before opening his eyes and, careful not to crush the petals, pocketed the flowers. 

Hermione Granger was trouble, anyone with a pair of working eyes could see that– the latest example being that her first question when he accused her of being a hunter should have been ‘what is a hunter?’ not ‘I’m not a hunter’– but she was also frustratingly bright and genuine and kind. Unfortunately for Lucius’s son, however, she also had a vicious streak a mile long, which Bole, Dormer and Robbards could attest to, and Draco had just put himself in her crosshairs.

He wished the boy luck– he was going to need it. 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER THIRTEEN:

“You were amazing in there!” Harry said, his green eyes bright behind his round glasses. Hermione was touched by his enthusiastic admiration.

“I didn’t really do much,” she admitted.

Not yet, anyway.

“Malfoy’s such an arse,” Ron said hotly. “Did you see Neville’s face back there?”

“I did,” Hermione scowled, remembering how pale Neville had turned, “I’m going to make Malfoy regret ever messing with my friends.”

Harry and Ron both exchanged looks at that, before Harry turned back and smiled at her. “Hey, we’re going to Hagrid’s this afternoon for tea. Want to come with us?” he offered.

“Oh? Have you decided I’m not evil?” she asked pointedly, and Ron scoffed.

“Anyone who defends Neville from that prat Malfoy can’t be a bad person,” he said, and apparently that was that.

“Alright,” she agreed, not willing to hold a grudge, “but only if Neville’s allowed out of the Hospital Wing by then.”

“Neville and, uh, Millicent are invited too, if they want to come,” Harry said quickly and Hermione smiled at him.

“Thanks,” she said, much more warmly.

She led the way to the Hospital Wing, chatting with Harry and Ron as they walked about their first week of classes. They got a few funny looks, but apparently the students at Hogwarts were getting desensitised to seeing Hermione associating with people who weren’t wearing green-and-silver ties.

Inside the Hospital Wing, Madam Pomfrey gave them a very stern look and a warning about not upsetting her patient before showing them over to where Neville and Millie were. Neville was sitting with his legs over the side of the bed while Millie was seated on the chair at his bedside. They were talking quietly and both looked up and smiled when they spotted Hermione and her tagalongs, Neville’s a little weaker then Millicent’s but no less real.

“Ron’s decided we’re not the root of all evil, so we’re friends now,” Hermione announced brightly, which made Ron flush slightly but he smiled good-naturedly.

“Malfoy’s still a prick, though,” he said, and Hermione immediately scowled.

“No arguments there.”

“You should have made him crawl,” Millie said spitefully, her hands clenched into fists at her sides. “You should have made him beg.”

“I feel like we’re missing the context for this conversation,” Harry observed.

“A small internal matter in the Slytherin common room last night,” Hermione explained vaguely. “Malfoy and I had a disagreement. Some harsh words were exchanged. It was probably why he was in such a foul mood today, which I’m truly sorry for, Neville.”

“Don’t be,” Neville said softly. “It’s no one’s fault but Malfoy’s.”

“And he’s going to pay for it,” Hermione promised and Neville gave her a small, grateful smile.

It didn’t take much to convince Madam Pomfrey to let Neville out of the Hospital Wing. She did warn them not to do anything too strenuous, but it was Friday afternoon and they had no more classes until Monday. They split up for lunch, arranging to meet at the entrance hall at five to three, though Millie firmly tugged Neville over to sit with her and Hermione, rather than with Harry and Ron at the Gryffindor table. Neville wisely didn’t argue.

As the three of them approached the Slytherin, Hermione spotted Rosier and Lestrange sitting together and Rosier smiled at her and beckoned. “I’ll be back in a moment,” she told Millie, not wanting to subject Neville to the older Slytherins. About to split off from the two, she paused for a moment, a deliciously wicked idea hitting her. “Millie,” she said, “sit Neville in Malfoy’s usual spot.” Millie’s eyes widened.

“Are you sure?”

“Oh I’m bloody sure, alright,” Hermione said, even as Neville looked confused.

“Does it really matter where I sit?” he asked. Hermione smiled.

“It will to Malfoy.” She said, leaning forwards to kiss his cheek before heading over to Rosier.

She knew that Millie had followed her instruction when a brief hush settled over the Slytherin table. Rosier, when she reached him, looked impressed at what was the biggest ‘fuck you’ she could have possibly given Draco Malfoy. Beside him, Lestrange was laughing.

“I am gaining a previously unknown fondness for gut wounds,” Hermione informed them both.

“Oh?” Rosier asked, smiling at the reference to their earlier conversation. She smiled.

“Did you know that disembowelment has been used as both a method of torture and execution in the past? If it’s the intestinal tract alone that’s affected, it can take several hours of gruesome pain before death occurs.”

“Almost makes me feel sorry for Malfoy,” Rosier said, though his smile said differently.

Lestrange, however, abruptly stopped laughing at Rosier’s words. “His father’s a coward and so is he,” the dark-haired boy said coldly. “While normally I can ignore that, he went too far, speaking about that which he had no right.”

“Rainier,” Rosier warned, and Lestrange went silent as Rosier turned back to face her. “You’ve made a bold opening move,” Rosier said, nodding over her shoulder, presumably at Neville sitting in Draco’s seat, at the head of the first-year hierarchy.

“More than one,” Hermione corrected. “Malfoy reached out to Potter at the start of the year, Potter turned him down.” She smiled sharply. “He didn’t turn me down.”

Rosier smiled. “Clever girl.”

“I protect what’s mine,” Hermione said. “Malfoy should have listened to my warning. I’m going to make him regret he didn’t.”

::

Hermione, Millicent and Neville went to the library after lunch to get a head start on their homework for the weekend. Neville was a fantastic resource for anything to do with Herbology and he apparently had a knack for Charms too, though his Transfiguration needed work. Hermione advised that he read Leucippus and Democritus'sworks to enhance his foundational knowledge for the subject and wrote down a list of references for him for him to check out.

Hermione also took the time to conjure up some tansy and thistle, redoing her hair in a crown braid with the bright yellow and purple flowers while Neville and Millicent watched, both impressed and confused. She just smiled when they asked, while weaving declaration of war and retaliation into her braids.

At ten to three they left the library so they were on time to meet Harry and Ron, finding the two waiting in the entrance hall. The five of them were about to leave the castle when Hermione felt the familiar crackle-pop and tingle-fizz that she’d come to associate with two very specific Gryffindors. A moment later, poor Ron found himself book-ended between two identical red-heads.

“Ronald Weasley!”

“Consorting with Slytherins!”

“What would our parents say!” The twins cried out dramatically.

“Piss off,” Ron scowled, elbowing his way free of his brothers. The twin Hermione had dubbed Possibly-Fred gasped, mock-scandalised.

“Such language!” He exclaimed. “Surely it is the foul, malevolent, sinful influence of the Slytherins that has tempted you to use such vile, odious, loathsome obscenity!” He pointed dramatically at Hermione. “What say you, foul temptress?”

“I say, are you here just to embarrass your brother?” she asked pointedly, “or is there something you want? We’re meeting someone at three.”

“We do actually have a question we need to ask you,” Possibly-George said.

“See, there’s a rumour going around that Snape awarded points in a first year class,” Fred explained.

“Which is about as unheard of as McGonagall wearing pink,” George continued.

“Sure, old Snape sometimes hands out points to NEWT students, but only when he’s really impressed.”

“And first years don’t impress him. He pretty much hates first years. He thinks they don’t know their faces from their arses.”

“That’s an actual quote from him, by the way.”

“Though to be fair, that was the fourth cauldron we had blown up.”

Fred and George shared a grin. Poor Professor Snape, she thought.

“Hermione got the points because she answered his questions at the start of class, now get lost,” Ron said impatiently.

“I’m also a Slytherin,” Hermione added. “I think that helped.”

“Oh, that definitely helped,” George said.

“But there’s another rumour going around that a certain Slytherin got sent out of class,” Fred’s smile was sharper now.

“That’s not just McGonagall wearing pink levels of unheard of,” George said. “That’s McGonagall and Snapewearing hot pink leather mini-skirts levels of unheard of.”

“That is the most disturbing thing you’ve ever said to me.” Ron said blankly. “I can never get that image out of my head.”

Hermione couldn’t either. That was horrifying.

“Malfoy deserved it,” Millie said coldly, and Hermione could see that Neville was holding her hand very tightly.

“’Course he did, he’s a prick,” Fred said. “Question is, what are you going to do about it?”

“You mean, what am I already doing about it,” Hermione corrected him. “If you think I haven’t already set two different plays into motion and have another prepared, then you have definitely underestimated me. You should probably look into that.”

Fred and George were both looking at her with identical thoughtful expressions and Hermione smiled sweetly at them, all teeth. “As I said, we have somewhere to be– and now we’re late.” With a final wave, she hooked one arm through Millie’s and one through Ron’s then dragged the pair after her, heading for the front doors of the castle.

Millie, already well used to being dragged along, easily kept up, as did Neville who Millie was still hanging on to. Ron was doing a surprisingly good job too, snickering as he did so. “The twins always just stomp all over everyone else in a conversation,” he told them, “it’s great to see the tables turned back on them, for once.”

“Nobody can stomp all over Hermione,” Millie informed him. “You can’t step on pure chaos.”

“Aw, Millie!” Hermione said, delighted. “You say the nicest things!”

Millie just sighed.

::

Hagrid lived in a small wooden house on the edge of the Forbidden Forest. When Harry knocked on the door, the rest of them fanned out behind him, Hermione heard a clatter of paws and frantic, booming barks.

“Back, Fang! Back!” Hagrid’s voice rang out. There was a bit of a bustle and a squeeze as the large man struggled to keep hold of an enormous black boarhound while they all edged around him and the dog into the hut.

There was only one room inside the hat. It was cosy; a copper kettle was boiling on the open fire and in the corner stood a massive bed with a patchwork quilt over it. “Make yerselves at home,” said Hagrid, letting go of the dog– Fang, Hermione assumed. Being mindful of Ash, Hermione immediately dropped to her knees and opened her arms to accept the doggy kisses.

“Hello handsome! Who’s a good puppy? Who’s a good puppy?” she cooed as Fang happily slobbered over her face.

I am! I am! I’m a good puppy! I’m a good puppy!’ Fang said eagerly.

“Yes you are, oh yes you are, you’re such a good puppy,” Hermione assured him, planting one last kiss on his wet nose before standing up and using the sleeve of her robe to wipe the sticky drool off her face.

Hagrid was smiling at her, even if his eyes kept darting to her silver-and-green tie. “’E likes you,” he said and Hermione beamed.

“He’s gorgeous!” She told him happily.

“This is Hermione,” Harry introduced her, “and Millicent, Neville and Ron.”

“It’s nice ter meet Harry’s friends,” Hagrid told them and Harry’s cheeks went a bit red. Millie looked like she wanted to roll her eyes at the touchy-feely Gryffindor nonsense, but Hermione pointedly looked at her hand, which was still holding Neville’s and Millie dipped her head as she silently conceded that, okay, fine, a bit of touchy-feely nonsense was acceptable.

“It’s nice to meet you too, Mister Hagrid,” Hermione said brightly as she looked back up at Hagrid, even though it was obvious the poor man didn’t know what to do about her or Millicent. “Say, as the groundskeeper for Hogwarts, you’d have to deal with a lot of wildlife and magical creatures, yes?”

“Aye, I do,” Hagrid nodded.

“Well,” she said, “do you happen to know how to rehome a two and a half meter long, incredibly deadly black mamba?”

“I, uh, I migh’?” Hagrid said, sounding a bit confused.

“Excellent!” Hermione said happily. “Because I happen to have a two and a half meter long, incredibly deadly black mamba I need re-homed.” She re-adjusted her cloak and tugged the top of her robe down slightly, exposing Ash’s head.

Ron immediately swore, Neville squeaked, Harry’s eyes widened and Millie just looked incredibly done with the world. Hagrid just looked interested.

I don’t want to go,’ Ash sulked.

“Well they’re not going to let me keep you.” Hermione said.

“Definitely not.” Harry added.

“Why, she’s a right beaut, innit she?” Hagrid seemed to have lost his awkwardness when faced with an incredibly deadly animal and Hermione managed to coax Ash into unwinding from her torso and coiling up on the table instead, though Ron and Neville pushed themselves back as far as they could get. “Beau’iful,” Hagrid praised Ash again, who preened as he gently stroked the scales over her head.

Perhaps this is an acceptable human, if I can’t stay with you,’ she decided, ‘his nest is warm and he is appropriately reverent.’

“Appropriately reverent,” Harry snorted and Hermione tilted her head.

“Harry,” she said curiously, “can you understand what Ash is saying?”

“Yes?” Harry said, looking confused. “Why? Can’t you?”

“Oh shit,” Millie said.

“You’re a Parselmouth!” Ron exclaimed.

Harry looked spooked. “Sure, but that’s got to be really common, right?” he asked and Hermione could hear the sudden desperation in his voice.

“No,” Ron shook his head, and Hermione could visibly see Harry’s hopes being dashed by his fellow Gryffindor’s words, “no, it’s really, really rare.”

“How rare?” Harry asked, looking like he was about to be sick.

“The last known Parselmouth in hundreds of years was the Dark Lord,” Millie said bluntly and Harry paled.

“So… I’m guessing there’s a lot of stigma attached to being a Parselmouth?” Hermione said slowly.

“Yes.”

“Loads, mate.”

“Lots, sorry Harry.” Millie, Ron and Neville all spoke at once.

Hagrid, who was now wearing Ash around his neck, was looking down at the very pale Harry with a look of great concern on his bearded face.

“If it gets out, you’ll get a lot of attention from all the wrong people,” Millie said flatly. “And ostracised from all the right people.”

“Then we won’t tell anyone,” Hermione decided, before fixing the group with a stern look. They all nodded, various expressions of determination on their faces. Poor Harry still looked shell-shocked so Hermione leaned over and gave him a hug. When he flinched, her ‘just desserts’ radar immediately pinged and she made sure to keep her grip loose until he carefully hugged her back.

“You know,” she said, still hugging him as she felt the tension slowly releasing from his body, “Salazar Slytherin had a daughter who could speak to snakes. Her name was Sylvianne and she was a healer who was gentle and kind and died defending a muggleborn. Being a Parselmouth doesn’t make you evil.”

“Thank you,” Harry said, sounding a little choked up. Hermione released him and pulled back so she could smile at him and pretend she hadn’t felt all the protruding spines of all his vertebrae under her fingers. Underfed. Unaccustomed to friendly touch. Broken glasses. She was not liking how this was adding up.

“Wait,” Harry said suddenly, “you could hear the snake too, right?” he asked.

Ah. Well, that was inconvenient.

“I have a bit of a gift with animals,” she said. “I read them well– their intentions, that is.”

That was bending the truth, but it wasn’t lying outright… much. Alright, it was lying but ‘I can talk to animals because my god wanted me to be able to talk to his children, one of which is a snake bigger than a whale, three like to turn into wolves and one prefers to go around as an eight-legged horse’ was harder to explain then something vague and wishy-washy like ‘reading intentions’.

Millie looked suspicious, because Millie was a Slytherin and she knew better than to trust what Hermione was saying outright. The other three– plus Hagrid– ate it right up.

“You going to tell us the truth?” she asked quietly as the kettle started whistling and Hagrid went to fetch it.

“Hopefully one day,” Hermione answered honestly and Millie nodded, apparently satisfied with the answer.

Hagrid came back with the kettle, cups and a tray of rock cakes that were shapeless lumps with raisins that nearly broke Hermione’s teeth when she tried taking a bite. Thankfully Fang, who was resting his head on her lap and soaking her robes with drool, was more than happy to devour hers and Millie’s.

Conversation flowed easily between them. They talked about their classes, Harry and Ron talked about an encounter they’d had with Filch and his cat Mrs Norris– Hagrid called Filch “that old git” and mentioned a great desire to introduce Mrs Norris to Fang– and Harry mentioned Professor Snape’s dislike of him. Hagrid looked very shifty as he declared that to be nonsense and even Neville looked suspicious as Hagrid hastily changed the subject.

“How’s yer brother Bill?” Hagrid asked. “’E worked fer Gringotts, didn’ ‘e? Nasty business, that.”

“What happened with Gringotts?” Harry asked, puzzled.

“What happened with Gringotts?” Millie repeated, “were you living under a rock? The next Wizard-Goblin War nearly broke out!”

“What!?” Hermione demanded, not having heard that part of the story at all.

“All the gold at every Gringotts branch in the world suddenly disappeared,” Millie explained, “sure, it was returned later, but the fact was, it disappeared and that terrified lots of very important, very powerful people. They wanted the goblins destroyed and they were prepared to go to war to see it done.”

Hermione felt very sick, hearing that. She’d mostly seen Loki’s theft as a grand joke, not thinking of the greater implications.

“In the end, the International Confederation of Wizards stepped in and refused to endorse a war,” Millie continued. “They threatened to enact sanctions on the Ministry of any country that started a war, so the Ministries cracked down on their populace and got everyone under control. A new peace treaty had to be drawn up between the Goblin King and the Supreme Mugwump. Most Gringotts branches have had to close, though, because wizards have withdrawn their gold.”

Hermione was silent for a moment. Was that justice? Loki had destroyed Gringotts for those dragons, destroyed it in a way it may never recover from. So was it a justice she could stand behind? Yes, she decided, remembering Loki’s anger as he recounted the horrific injuries the dragons had suffered during their captivity, their slavery. There was a rot deep inside Gringotts, and when wood had rotted from within, you didn’t try to fix it, you replaced it. The same would go for Gringotts.

They left Hagrid’s at a little past five, Hermione saying an emotional, misty-eyed farewell to Ash and promising to come visit. Together, they trooped back up to the castle, parting ways at the Entrance Hall.

Millie, Neville and Hermione returned to the library to continue working on their homework before heading to dinner, splitting up so Neville went to eat with Harry and Ron, who Hermione was pleased to see easily welcomed him, while Hermione and Millie were likewise welcomed to join Rosier’s circle of friends with a lazy wave of the older Slytherin’s hand.

“Malfoy’s heard all about your little tea-party with Potter and Weasley,” Lestrange said with a vicious smile, “he’s been fuming. It’s delightful to watch.”

“Forget Malfoy,” Flint said, “I heard from the Weasley twins– oh, don’t give me that look Warrington, if those two weren’t Weasleys they’d have been Slytherins– that you managed to earn points from Snape.”

“Making my total points for my first week an even one hundred,” Hermione said smugly, not even bothering to hide it. Flint whistled.

“Shit, kid, that’s impressive.”

“Language, Flint,” Rosier scolded. “But yes, that is impressive,” he praised her. “It looks like Slytherin will be keeping up our winning streak for the House Cup.”

“And the Quidditch Cup too, hopefully,” Flint added. “That’s the good thing about being part of a House defined by ambition– we’re all so bloody ambitious, so we don’t settle for second best.”

“We’re both on the Quidditch team and our captain doesn’t believe in training until we get it right,” Warrington explained, “he believes in training until we can’t get it wrong.”

“My combat instructors are like that,” Hermione laughed.

“Combat instructors?” Rosier asked sharply, interest gleaming in his eyes.

“I have a friend who made questionable life decisions when he was younger,” Hermione said with a slight shrug. “When they caught up to him, I got caught in the middle. After that, I wasn’t happy with being defenceless. Now I’m not and I’ll never be again.”

“And what will you do, if someone tries to make you defenceless?” Rosier asked. Hermione twirled the dinner knife she was holding expertly between her fingers and smiled.

“Teach them the error of their ways.”

::

“You can be terrifying, you realise,” Millie told her as they made their way back to the common room after dinner.

“Again, you say the nicest things,” Hermione teased, which earned her a smile from her friend. When they entered the common room, however, Millie’s smile fell away as she spotted who was waiting for them.

“Malfoy!” she hissed. Hermione immediately held a hand out across Millie’s body before she could storm forwards towards the blond, who had immediately jumped to his feet with his hand going to his wand.

“You know,” she told Malfoy in a conversational tone, “I was going to give you a chance. I didn’t have to, because to be quite frank you’re a spoiled little shit and a bigot and I don’t like you. But I thought you had potential, so I was going to let that slide and give you room to grow. Except then you went and threw that chance away by hurting one of mine.” Hermione smiled at Draco. “I’m going to make you regret that. Sweet dreams, Malfoy.”

She then turned slightly and forcefully dragged Millie off with her to the girl’s dormitories, leaving Malfoy frozen in place by the fire.

“What was that?” Millie finally demanded when they were halfway up the stairs.

“That was a slow bleed,” Hermione answered. “I’m letting the anticipation build. I’m going to turn him into a paranoid wreck who twitches at every shadow and jerks awake at every creak. Sometimes the best revenge isn’t immediate gratification, it’s sinking into a hot bath and luxuriating for hours. Trust me,” she said, looking Millie straight in the eye, “we’re going to make him regret his choices.”

Millie took a deep breath. “I do,” she said. “I trust you.”

Hermione smiled. “Then let the fun begin.” 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FOURTEEN:

As the weekend dawned, Hermione rose early and dressed in an old t-shirt faded by salt-water, a pair of shorts she thought might have once belonged to Angus and her trainers. She strapped her knives in their usual hidden sheathes on her back and thighs and without any sort of sheathe or holster to strap her wand into, she resorted to sticking it through the thick four-strand braid she’d magicked her curls into.

Making her way out to the castle grounds, Hermione smiled at the rush of cool morning air and began to stretch her muscles. She’d had nearly an entire week off training now and she didn’t want to strain anything. She was bent over, stretching out her hamstrings, when she heard a familiar voice call out.

“Fancy seeing you out here so early, Granger!” Marcus Flint greeted her, a friendly smile on his face.

“Good morning,” she said, straightening up and smiling back at the older Slytherin. Flint was wearing a Slytherin-green t-shirt, a pair of black shorts and an expensive-looking pair of trainers. “Are you planning on going for a run too?” she asked curiously. Flint grinned at her.

“There’s a bit of an unofficial club the Quidditch teams have,” he said, “come on, you can join us this morning.”

Not seeing any reason to say no, Hermione followed the older Slytherin as he led her towards the Quidditch Pitch. Near the stands, she spotted a group of people waiting. To her surprise, most weren't Slytherins. Instead, there were mostly Ravenclaws, Hufflepuffs, and the odd Gryffindor– two of which she recognised immediately.

“Why, Miss Granger!”

“Fancy meeting you here!” Fred and George Weasley exclaimed.

“Oh shut up, it’s too early for your bullshit,” Flint groaned, but his complaint was a lot more good-natured then Hermione would have expected coming from a Slytherin to a Gryffindor. She abruptly remembered Flint mentioning he’d heard from the Weasley twins about her earning points from Snape. She’d assumed it had been in passing, not that they’d had an actual, amicable conversation.

“Nice to meet you,” a friendly-looking older boy in Hufflepuff colours Hermione didn’t recognise greeted her. “I’m Cedric Diggory.”

“Hermione Granger,” Hermione said, holding out her hand to shake Cedric’s.

“Hey, back off, golden boy, she’s ours,” Flint said, wrapping his arm around Hermione’s shoulders in a sudden, possessive gesture. Hermione’s eyes widened slightly in surprise but she didn’t try to dislodge him. If anything, she actually felt flattered at the implied acceptance after a week of so blatantly not being accepted by her House.

“Does she play Quidditch?” One of the other Gryffindors asked, this one frowning at her.

“I have no idea if I can even fly a broom,” Hermione answered honestly. “But a friend of mine made a challenge that I have to complete before the mid-year break and if I fail then I have to try out for the Slytherin team next year, whether I’m any good at Quidditch or not.”

“Why do you make it sound like a punishment?” Flint demanded, using his hold to spin her around to face him.

“Team sports aren’t really my thing,” Hermione admitted sheepishly.

“Then we’ll just have to change your mind,” Flint decided, looking her up and down, assessing. "You've got a small build, light– you'd suit a Chaser or a Seeker." 

"Personally, I think Beaters have the most fun," Hermione interjected, which had the Weasley twins grinning at her and Flint laughing.

"You're vicious enough for it," he agreed and Hermione tried not to preen at the compliment.  

“But why are you here, if you’re not a Quidditch player?” interrupted the Gryffindor from before, who now just looked confused and like he didn’t understand why anyone would even want to get up so early to go running if they didn’t play Quidditch. She supposed she did sort of understand where he was coming from.

“Quidditch isn’t the only sport in the world, Oliver,” Possibly Fred sighed.

“Don’t tell him that, George!” Possibly… George? Hissed. “You might break his brain!”

“Enough talk, people!” Oliver declared, with a glare at the twins. “Let’s go!”

The group of seventeen all set off. Hermione was pleased with the pace that was set; she could push herself harder if she wanted, but there was no need. “Do you do this every morning?” she asked Flint as they jogged along what she suspected was a familiar route by the confidence and ease with which the group ran.

“Most mornings,” he told her. “Usually not around game times– it gets tense and it’ll be worse this year,” he grinned, a wicked, clever thing, “me and Wood are captains now.”

“Captains?” Hermione asked, impressed. “And you’re both fifth years?”

“Yep,” Flint said proudly. “Youngest captains in the past seventy years– and Slytherin’s going to smash Gryffindor.”

“In your dreams, Flint!” The boy Possibly Fred had called Oliver bellowed.

“Yeah, find yourself a Seeker who’s actually worth a damn, Wood, and then maybe I’ll start worrying!” Flint taunted with a mean smirk. Wood gave a rude gesture in return that had Hermione snorting with laughter while the Weasley twins mock-gasped and pretended to cover each other’s eyes. Cedric Diggory, who was running alongside her and Flint, just sighed.

“Is it like this every morning?” she asked him.

“It can get much less friendly around competition season,” Cedric admitted, “sometimes to the point we have to pull Wood and Flint apart, and last year Wood tackled Flint into the Black Lake and Flint retaliated by breaking his nose, but… mostly, yes.”

Hermione found herself unexpectedly delighted. She supposed the common interests these students shared had drawn them together outside class, but it was still so nice to see that the House divisions didn’t exist so stringently across every aspect of Hogwarts student life.

The jog finished where it started, by the Quidditch Stands, near the change-rooms. While the rest of the unofficial jogging club started their cool-down stretches and heading back up to the castle, Hermione began to run through juros– Silat’s set forms; the equivalent to her jujutsu’s katas. As she was reluctant to practice with live weapons in front of the other students, she ran through the sets with empty hands, instead focusing on keeping up a continuous flowing motion. 

She’d gotten good enough with her karambit knives and keris dagger that Hati had promised to teach her another weapon traditionally used in Silat over the end-of-year summer holidays, so long as she didn’t let her skills deteriorate, and she was determined to earn that extra weapon– she was already trying to decide between a toya– a staff, or a sauku– a whip.

Hermione was aware of the eyes lingering on her from those who had remained behind to watch her, so she wasn’t surprised when someone eventually spoke up. “What the bloody hell are you doing?” Flint asked her.

“Training,” she replied, enjoying the way her muscles burned from exertion. “Sports exist outside Quidditch, remember?”

“And… what sport is that?” Possibly George asked, both he and his twin coming up next to Flint and looking interested. Cedric had also lingered, interest bright in his eyes.

“This specifically? Silat,” Hermione said, straightening up and smiling. “But I know a mixture of martial arts. Want a demonstration?”

“Sure,” Flint said and her smile widened.

“Grab your wand,” she told him, “and try to hex me.” Flint gave her a suspicious look.

“I’ve seen your handiwork,” he accused. “I’m not about to lose my wand, thanks.”

“Those morons tried to ambush me,” Hermione said patiently. “I invited you to spar. Big difference. Do you want a demonstration or not?”

Flint’s curiosity won out over his sense of self-preservation, which was very Gryffindor of him, and he pulled out his wand as Hermione slid into a ready position. She easily slid out of the way of the first hex then the second, then showed off by bending backwards at the waist so her torso was horizontal to the ground to avoid the third, before curling her body to complete the back handspring, landing and sliding low into the rimau menanti stance, the waiting tiger; her back leg carrying her body weight in a crouch, front leg outstretched.

Flint looked impressed, but not impressed enough to stop trying to hex her. She responded by switching from defence to offense, body flowing around the hexes as she lunged forwards. The moment she was within arm’s reach, she dropped suddenly, pressing her shoulder forward against Flint’s shin while simultaneously seizing his ankle, then standing and yanking upwards, careful not to use enough force to snap Flint’s leg at the knee as the move was known to do.

Flint swore as he flailed backwards, off-balance, and a kick to the chest was enough to put him down hard. As he wheezed on the ground, the air knocked from his lungs, she lightly pressed her shoe down over the wrist of his wand hand, bending to tug his wand from his limp fingers.

“Bloody buggering balls,” Flint wheezed, breathless and Hermione smiled down at him, ever-so gently.

Fred, George and Cedric, the three who’d hung around to watch her demonstration, all applauded. “That was amazing!” Cedric said, with a wide, genuine smile.

“Simply stupendous!”

“Outstanding!” The twins cheered. Hermione laughed, bending down to help Flint back to his feet and handing him back his wand. Flint had stopped wheezing and was instead giving her a sharp, considering look.

“You know,” he said thoughtfully, just the faintest rasp still evident in his voice, “I thought Rosier was a bit barmy, when he took interest in you. Sure, you’re fun, but Rosier’s old school. He’s not interested in your type, if you get what I’m saying.”

“I can read between the lines,” Hermione said dryly– purebloods like Rosier shouldn’t be interested in lowly, upstart muggleborns like her.

“But I can see it now,” Flint said. “What caught his attention.”

“Should I be flattered?” Hermione asked, though ‘should I be worried?’ was what she really wanted to ask.

“It really depends,” Flint told her, looking at her, considering. “But I think you’ll be able to figure that out for yourself.” Then he grinned. “We’re meeting up tomorrow, same time. Will you be joining us?”

“I will,” Hermione promised, mind whirring.

“Good,” Flint said. “Welcome to the club, Granger.”

::

The first weekend passed too quickly, in Hermione’s opinion. As well as spending time with Millie, Neville, Harry and Ron, she made sure to catch up with Justin and Dean, not willing to lose her connection with the other two and determined to take the time to ensure she wouldn’t.

On Saturday, she and Justin spent three hours chatting about basic Pythagorean numerology. “All things are numbers” the Greek philosopher– and apparent Master Arithmancer– Pythagoras had said, and the idea that the physical world was comprised of the energetic vibrations of numbers was fascinating. Numerology was the most basic form of Arithmancy; it was a means of personal divination, of smaller, everyday predictions. But if an Arithmancer could calculate the numbers, the equations, the very algorithms of the universe, then the past could be mapped, the present understood, and the future predicted and reshaped. The potential was limitless.

Unfortunately, it seemed that Arithmancy was a very niche field that had progressed very little in the past thousand years and Hermione wondered why more witches and wizards didn’t try to keep up with the advances made by muggle mathematicians. She and Justin agreed that they’d likely have progressed much further if they had. Still, Hermione couldn’t wait until third year when she could choose Arithmancy as an elective!

On Sunday, Dean managed to talk her into helping him convince Harry, Ron, Neville, Millie and Seamus to play a game of soccer. Ron in particular couldn’t see what was exciting about a game with only one ball and no flying, but they ended up having a wonderful time running around the lush green lawns of Hogwarts as they chased after Dean’s soccer ball, scored goals and tackled each other.

Ron, Neville, Hermione and Harry ended up on one team while Millie, Dean, and Seamus were on the other– it was decided that Dean’s superior skill made up for the extra player on the second team. Millie’s unexpected talent for soccer, however, meant that Dean and Millie absolutely dominated the game and Hermione had more than one bruise from being tackled by her fellow Slytherin.

Dean chatted excitedly with Millie the entire walk back to the castle, trying to convince her to join his muggle soccer team during the summer holidays. Hermione thought that Millie might not be quite as dismissive of the idea as she was pretending to be and had to hide a smile at the sight of her friend’s happiness. They all decided that they absolutely had to have a rematch the following weekend, though Ron promised to introduce them to Quidditch after they had their flying lessons– while first years weren’t allowed their own broomsticks, they were allowed to borrow the school brooms once they’d passed the flying classes to Madam Hooch’s satisfaction.

Hermione sat with the Gryffindors after the soccer game and didn’t bother to hide her smirk from Draco as she leaned against Harry, who absently wrapped an arm around her waist to balance her– she’d started a campaign of casual touches over the weekend to acclimatise Harry to physical contact between friends and he was already responding so well, the poor touch-deprived boy. She was planning on sending an extremely scathing letter to Loki about Harry’s guardians once she managed to get their names out of him and a recommendation for some particularly vicious just desserts.

Draco’s face went all tight with anger before he turned away and Hermione felt smug as she turned back to the table. Millie, the only one to notice the exchange, shared a smirk with her.

Their campaign against Draco had been progressing perfectly as planned. Draco had been growing increasingly twitchy and bad-tempered all weekend and both Hermione and Millie knew exactly why. Her dear Vashti had been ever-so delighted at the chance to sneak into the boy’s dorm and sing her low, eerie song under Draco’s bed, just quiet enough to wake the boy at the dead of night before disappearing in a flare of flame just as he started to stir.

And that was only the start.

Shoelaces mysteriously unlaced themselves, ink bottles refused to cap properly in book-bags, a glass of pumpkin juice spilt on a letter left open on the table at breakfast before Draco could read it… all little annoyances, just plausible enough to be natural, to be accidents, but enough to keep him on edge. And it was working.

As the next school week began, Hermione could tell Draco’s sleep was suffering and the blond was getting even twitchier and more paranoid, just as she’d promised Millie he would. Draco’s temper was also getting shorter and he actually snapped at Pansy at the Slytherin table, breaking the rule of always showing unity outside the Slytherin common room. The older Slytherins were frowning down the table at the frazzled blond and Hermione ducked her head to hide her smile. As Lestrange and Rosier passed by her on their way out of the Great Hall, Lestrange tugged on one of her curls. “Clever girl,” he murmured and Rosier smiled approvingly.

“Merlin, they’re creepy,” Millie muttered as she watched them go.

“I’ve met creepier,” Hermione admitted, “but they’re definitely an acquired flavour.”

Their second week passed much like the first, with Draco’s steadily deteriorating state being the only real difference. Aware that sleep deprivation was considered an actual form of torture and that Draco was just a child, Hermione did make sure to only disrupt his sleep every third night, but along with the occasional accident it was enough to set the blond in a permanently foul, twitchy mood and any allies he may have begun courting within Slytherin House had long since left him.

Draco clearly knew it was her fault, but the memory of his crushing defeat at her hands during their last duel seemed to be holding him back from openly challenging her a second time. Still, Hermione waited– she’d made her move– well, moves– the next move in their little dance was his.

It was during at the start of their third week that Draco snapped. In all honesty, Hermione was impressed he’d lasted that long. She was much less impressed however when he approached Neville at the Gryffindor table, a sneer on his face. Millie tensed next to her and Hermione’s lips pressed together as she watched the blond snatch something small and round from Neville’s hands. He wasn’t even looking at the Neville, or at Ron and Harry as they jumped to their feet to defend Neville. Instead, his eyes were fixed firmly on hers across the Hall, even as Professor McGonagall swooped in to defuse the situation.

“Just desserts are about teaching lessons,” Hermione said lightly. “It seems Malfoy hasn’t learned his yet.” She smiled over at Draco, all teeth. “I suppose we’ll just have to teach him.”

“We've got our first flying lesson today with the Gryffs,” Millie said, and Hermione could hear the unease in her voice. "Hermione– if there's ever a time when you, Neville and Harry are going to be vulnerable, when it's going to be so easy for accidents to happen... it's not a coincidence that Malfoy chose today of all days to start trouble." 

Hermione narrowed her eyes, her jaw tightening in response to the anger she felt flaring to life within her. "Millie," she said, in a deceptively calm voice. "If there's one thing you should know about me, it's this– I protect what's mine." 

Millie sucked in a breath and Hermione could feel as the magic spun between them, sealing her promise; golden and quivering, a whisper of winter wind, of rattling bone. "Your eyes," Millie whispered, sounding awed and shaken. Hermione could feel other eyes on her from further up the table but she ignored them, focusing on Millie who was staring at her, breathless and wondering.

"Let's kick his prissy pureblood arse," Hermione said, mostly just to break the weighted feel to the air, and Millie laughed, her shoulders relaxing slightly. 

"Yeah," she said, still slightly breathless. "Let's kick his arse."

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FIFTEEN:

At three-thirty in the afternoon, Hermione and Millie met Neville, Harry and Ron on the front steps of the school, waiting to make their way down to the lawn where their first flying lesson was to take place. While Harry and Ron looked a mix of nervous and excited, Neville’s shoulders were hunched forwards and his face was ashen.

“You look like you’re about to hurl,” Millie said bluntly and Neville’s shoulders hunched forwards even further.

“I’ve never flown a broom before,” he said miserably. “Gran never let me near one.”

“I’m sure lots of people haven’t flown a broom before,” Hermione said encouragingly. “I haven’t.

“Me either,” Harry added.

“Or me,” was Millie’s contribution. “You’re not the only beginner, Neville.”

“And it’s not as scary as it looks,” Ron promised. “You can fly as slow and as close to the ground as you want.”

Neville gave them all a shaky smile, looking slightly less like he wanted to be sick. “Thanks.” He said, and his voice sounded a smidge less wobbly.

Madam Hooch, a fierce-looking witch with short, gray hair and yellow eyes like a hawk, was waiting impatiently for them all by twenty brooms lined up on the ground. “Well, what are you all waiting for?” she barked as they arrived. “Everyone stand by a broomstick. Come on, hurry up!”

Feeling her hands almost tremble with excitement, Hermione hurried over to the closest broomstick, flanked on either side by Millie and Neville. Draco Malfoy swaggered past them, a sneer on his pale, pointed face, and Hermione’s mood dipped slightly as he purposefully collided into Neville, causing her friend to stumble.

“Enough messing around!” Madam Hooch shouted before she could even take a step in the blond's direction. “Everyone, stick your right hand out over the broom and say UP!”

Lips pressed together, Hermione turned her attention back to the lesson– for now. 

“UP!” everyone shouted.

Hermione’s broom gave a happy little hop up into her hand, shivering under her touch. She stroked the glossy, slightly knobbly wood with wide eyes, able to feel the complexity of the enchantments woven into the broom under her touch and the magic teased at her fingertips, clinging and tugging at her own magic.

She was so enraptured, she didn’t even notice they were supposed to be mounting their brooms until Madam Hooch cleared her throat and she jerked her head up, blushing as she realised the flying instructor was standing right before her. “Sorry!” she squeaked, able to see that around her, her fellow students were already sitting on their broomsticks. Madam Hooch just looked amused, thankfully, and showed Hermione how to sit on the broom without sliding off the end.

“Relax, Neville,” she heard Millie say, and glanced over to see that Neville had turned the colour of porridge as he clung onto his broomstick. “Remember what Weasley said.”

“He did say you could call him Ron,” Hermione reminded her– Ron had been so impressed by one of the goals Millie had kicked the previous Sunday, he’d promptly invited her to call him by his first name– even if it wasn’t Quidditch, sport really was the way to a boy’s heart, she’d teased Millie, which had made the other girl hit her and go bright red.

“But if I do, it sounds like I’m getting chummy with the Gryffindors,” Millie complained.

“Because you are getting chummy with the Gryffindors,” Hermione pointed out, amused, and Millie pulled a face.

“Don’t remind me,” she said, with a slight shudder. “Not you, Nev,” she added, glancing back over at Neville, “you’re bearable.”

Hermione playfully gasped. “Oh my! Bearable? That’s about the highest compliment one can get from our Millicent Bulstrode! Be still my beating heart!” she said, lifting a hand from the broom handle to fan herself. A few of the other students were looking at her oddly, but Neville at least was smiling slightly and a bit of pink had returned to his cheeks, so the theatrics had been worth it.

“Now, when I blow my whistle, you kick off from the ground, hard,” Madam Hooch instructed, and Hermione reached over to squeeze Neville’s hand.

“Remember, we’re here, okay?” she whispered, and he swallowed and nodded.

“Keep your brooms steady, rise a few feet, and then come straight back down by leaning forward slightly,” Madam Hooch continued. “On my whistle; three, two, one–”

Hermione kicked off and gasped in delight. She could feel the magic at work, could feel the complicated weave of spellwork sing to life in a beautiful harmony as her broom levitated off the ground. She yearned to soar high, to feel the wind in her face and the weightlessness that came with flight, but Madam Hooch’s instructions had been firm and she reluctantly leaned forwards and guided her broom back to the ground.

Neville looked ill and like he wished he never had to touch a broomstick again, but he’d managed the simple exercise without any issues, as had Millie and Harry, Hermione’s fellow beginners. Harry’s face was flushed with excitement and as Hermione traded wide, beaming smiles with him, she imagined hers was the same.

Madam Hooch led them through a series of short exercises, teaching them basic broom skills such how to glide forwards, how to turn and how to fly in a circle. Hermione remembered Millie’s warning and kept her eye on Draco, but he seemed just as distracted by the lesson as everyone else.

It wasn’t until near the end of the hour that Madam Hooch allowed them a short, supervised window of opportunity to fly freely, warning them sternly that they were to remain within the boundaries she’d had outlined earlier and not to rise about thirty feet. She also warned them that any antics would see them in detention faster then she could say “Quidditch!”

Thrilled, Hermione immediately took the opportunity to soar up into the air to the allowed maximum height of thirty feet, Harry and Ron hot on her tail. Millie and Neville both followed at a much more cautious pace and Hermione spun around to face her friends, beaming happily. “Isn’t this brilliant?” she asked, breathlessly, and Harry grinned back at her, his face alight with joy.

“It's amazing!” he said, and Hermione thought it was the happiest she’d seen Harry, in the air and surrounded by his friends.

So of course, Draco had to come along and ruin it.

“I’m surprised Longbottom’s got enough magic to even get his broomstick off the ground,” he sneered, banking his broom sharply so he was just above them. Hermione scowled up at him, her fingers twitching with the urge to unravel the spellwork keeping Draco’s broom in the air. Surely it wouldn’t be too hard, she thought viciously, seeing the shame and embarrassment on Neville’s face, but she restrained herself.

“Shut up, Malfoy!” Ron snarled.

Draco’s sneer grew more pronounced as it turned on Ron. “I don’t suppose you’ve ever been on a broom before,” he said snidely, “it’s not like your family could afford one.”

Ron’s face went red with anger.

“Malfoy,” Hermione said quietly, “shut up.”

Draco smiled. It wasn’t a nice smile. He had something in his hand, she noticed, and he tossed it casually in the air, catching it with ease. Neville gasped, one of his hands clapping against the side of his robes.

“My Remembrall!”

Hermione, remembering Draco knocking into Neville earlier, narrowed her eyes. “Surely pickpocketing is below the scion of to the ancient and noble House of Malfoy,” she said and Draco’s nasty smile widened.

“Well it’s not like you would know, Mudblood,” he said and Hermione felt a sort of eerie calm settle over her.

“Malfoy,” she said, almost pleasantly, “if you don’t give that back right this instant, I’m going to make you look back on our last duel in longing once I’m finished with you. You can consider that line I warned you about well and truly crossed.”

There was a flash of something that resembled fear in Draco’s eyes, but the sheer hatred he had for her seemed to overtake it, and any sense he had, because he tossed the Remembrall up again, caught it and then casually just let it go.

Neville cried out, automatically reaching forwards to catch it then screamed as he overbalanced, plunging head-first off his broom. Her heart in her throat, Hermione immediately dove after him, flattening her body against her broom as she raced towards Neville's flailing figure. The wind rushed against her face as she locked her legs together under her broom, reaching for her friend with both hands and grabbing onto one of his flailing legs.

The jolt of stopping his fall nearly tore Neville free from her grip– if Harry hadn’t caught one of Neville’s arms just moments before she’d caught his leg, it probably would have. As it was, the force did pull her over, tipping Hermione so she was hanging upside-down, her legs locked around her broom as she hung determinedly onto Neville’s leg while Harry held his arm just as determinedly, both of them keeping Neville from falling to the ground.

Moments later, Millie and Ron were there beside them and so was Madam Hooch. Their flying instructor managed to help assist Neville onto the front of her broom so she could fly them both safely to the ground and Hermione could have cried in relief when she saw her friend’s feet both safely on the ground.

Curling her body into an upside-down sit-up, Hermione grabbed onto her broomstick and swung herself back around so she was upright. Her eyes unerringly sought out Draco and there was a part of her that was pleased to see he looked pale. Most of her, however, was enraged.

Madam Hooch ordered them all to the ground with a blast of her whistle and Hermione made straight for Neville, Millie and Ron right beside her. Neville was sitting on the grass, his face ashen. He was holding something in his hand and as Hermione dropped to her knees beside him, she was horrified to see the shards of shattered glass he was clutching in his palm.

“Gran’s going to kill me,” he said, sounding numb, “she only sent it to me this morning and I’ve already broken it.”

“You didn’t break it,” Millie snapped, gently seizing onto Neville’s wrist and pulling his hand out to tip the shards of glass that remained of the Remembrall onto the grass. There were small cuts left on Neville’s palm and Hermione immediately pulled the vial of Vashti’s tears she’d taken to carrying around since her duel with Draco, pulling off the lid to tip the pearly liquid onto the wounds. They might be small wounds, she reasoned, but Neville was her friend and there was no need for him to suffer needlessly.

“Wow,” Neville said, sounding quietly amazed as he watched the cuts heal over, vanishing like they were never there.

“Mister Longbottom,” Madam Hooch walked over, a stern look on her face. Draco was trailing after her, a sullen look on his. “Mister Potter, Miss Granger, follow me,” she ordered. “The rest of you– dismissed.” Millie and Hermione traded looks and Hermione nodded at Millie before standing up and holding her hand out to Neville, helping to pull him to his feet as he was still obviously quite shaky.

Madam Hooch led them all to the hospital wing where Madam Pomfrey gave Neville a calming draught and they were all told to sit quietly while she fetched their Heads of House. Hermione waited until the flying instructor had left and Madam Pomfrey was out of earshot before turning to Draco.

“I warned you,” she hissed, feeling like she could spit fire. “I warned you!

“And why would I listen to some uppity Mudblood?” Draco scoffed, nothing but disdain on his pale, pointed face.

“Don’t call her that,” Neville said suddenly and Draco turned his sneer on Neville.

“And what are you going to do about it, squib?” he asked and Neville’s eyes looked wet but he didn’t back down.

“I’m just as much of a wizard as you are, Malfoy,” he said, and Hermione was so proud of him she felt like her heart might burst. And then Draco smiled, triumphant, like Neville had just walked straight into his trap.

“Prove it, then,” he said smoothly, “tonight, even. Wizard’s duel– wands only, no contact. Or are you too afraid?”

“I’m not afraid of you, Malfoy,” Neville said quietly and Draco’s smile widened even as Hermione’s heart sank.

“Midnight, then,” he said. “We can use the trophy room– that’s always unlocked. Who’s your second?”

“Me,” Harry said fiercely before Hermione could and Draco leaned back, looking satisfied as he shifted his gaze over to her and smirked. Hermione wanted nothing more in that moment than to show him just what it meant, that she was the priestess of a trickster god. That of them, she was the one with blood on her hands. She wanted him terrified, and her rage scared her. It seemed to scare Draco too, because he flinched back from the look in her eyes.

Good.

Madam Hooch returned then, Professors McGonagall and Snape with her. The four of them were required to recount the entire incident for both Heads and Hermione watched as Professor McGonagall’s mouth grew thinner and thinner while Professor Snape’s face went very blank.

“While I trust you did not intend for Mister Longbottom to fall, Mister Malfoy,” Professor McGonagall said crisply, once they’d finished speaking, “your actions showed a serious lapse in judgment and they will be reprimanded. I will leave your punishment to your Head of House to decide. Miss Granger, Mister Potter; your actions today also lacked proper judgment. Neither of you have flown a broom before and your attempt to save Mister Longbottom could just as easily have ended with three gravely injured students. Your willingness to help your fellow student, however, is commendable and you both showed great courage and selflessness. You will each receive fifty points for your House.”

Her face finally relaxed and she smiled. “I’m proud of you,” she said. “Now, Mister Longbottom, Miss Granger, it may interest you to know that Miss Bulstrode and Mister Weasley are waiting quite impatiently outside the doors to the hospital wing for you to emerge. If there is nothing more that Professor Snape or Madam Pomfrey require you for, then you may join them before they try breaking in. Mister Potter, I’d like a word.”

Harry looked nervous and Hermione gave him an encouraging smile as Madam Pomfrey gave them the all clear and Professor Snape, whose attention was fixed on Draco, nodded shortly, giving them leave to hurry from the hospital wing, to where their friends were waiting.

Millie and Ron were waiting anxiously outside, just as Professor McGonagall had said, and they both immediately hurried forward as Hermione and Neville emerged. “Neville, are you alright, mate?” Ron asked and Neville gave Ron a terrified look.

“Malfoy challenged me to a Wizard’s Duel,” he said faintly.

“He what!?” Millie said loudly.

“What was I thinking?” Neville moaned despairingly. “He’s right, I’m useless, I’m basically a squib–”

“Shut up!” Hermione said fiercely. “He is not right, he’s just a coward and you’re going to beat him!”

“But I barely know any magic!” Neville protested.

“Maybe not,” Hermione said grimly, “but do. And I’ve got until midnight to teach you how to kick his arse.”

Chapter Text

CHAPTER SIXTEEN:

“The trick is,” Hermione said as she and Neville stood in one of the abandoned classrooms, “creativity.”

“Creativity,” Neville repeated and Hermione nodded.

“There’s a lot you can do with very simple spells if you use them creatively,” she explained. “We’re going to focus on three today– scourgify, lumos and cantis.”

“I recognise two of those,” Neville said slowly. “Scourgify is a cleaning spell, right? And lumos makes light?”

“That’s right,” she nodded. “And cantis is a jinx that causes uncontrollable singing.”

“And… I’ll be able to beat Malfoy with just them?” Neville asked nervously.

“Trust me Neville,” Hermione said firmly, “if you can master them? You will.”

Harry, Millie and Ron joined them an hour into Neville’s practicing of the spells. He had mastered lumos quickly and could manage a decent scourgify but cantis was proving difficult and he seemed relieved for the short reprieve.

Despite the upcoming duel, Harry’s face was bright and shining with excitement and he was quick to share why. “McGonagall said that when Madam Hooch told her about my flying, she was really impressed,” he said eagerly, “she told me I should try out for the Gryffindor Quidditch team, even though I’m just a first year!”

“I thought first years couldn’t try out for the team?” Hermione asked, startled. It was Ron who cleared things up.

“They’re not allowed their own broomsticks, but they can try out for the team,” he explained. “Usually they just borrow a broom from a friend or older sibling. There hasn’t been a first year who’s made the team for about a century, though, because it’s really competitive!”

“Are you going to try out, Harry?” Hermione asked him and Harry nodded.

“Ron said he’d ask the twins if I could borrow one of their brooms for the try-outs,” he said, face shining. “Their try-outs will be at different times– they’re Beaters and McGonagall said she thought I should try out for the Seeker position.”

Hermione, remembering Marcus’s comment to Oliver Wood that he’d only start worrying about the Slytherin Quidditch team’s chances if Gryffindor ever got a decent Seeker, thought that her fellow Slytherin might start regretting those words. Also, Professor McGonagall was apparently a lot more competitive then Hermione had realised!

“I think you’ll be amazing,” she said honestly. “And so long as you’re not playing Slytherin, I promise I’ll cheer for you… actually, I’ll probably cheer for you a little bit anyway. Just very quietly.”

Harry blushed. “I probably won’t get on the team,” he said, “I am just a first year.”

“Nonsense,” Hermione declared, “if Madam Hooch told Professor McGonagall that she thinks you’re good enough to be on the team, then I don’t doubt for a moment you’ll make it.”

Harry couldn’t help his wide, excited smile at her encouragement and Ron looked just as enthusiastic next to him. Even Neville, despite his anxiety, managed a wobbly smile and a soft congratulations.

Noticing Neville’s pallor, Harry’s good mood wilted slightly. “Um,” he said, “so what is a wizard’s duel, exactly?”

Millie looked at him in disbelief. “Potter,” she said, ignoring his correction of ‘Harry’, “please don’t tell me you agreed to the duel without even knowing what it is.”

Harry looked like a deer in headlights. “Um,” he said, “I… won’t? Tell you that?”

Millie looked dearly like she wanted to curse him. “Potter,” she said through gritted teeth, “there are duels that can strip a wizard of their titles, their gold, even their magic if they lose. There are duels where it’s legal to fight to the death. You cannot just agree to any potentially binding magical contract without being fully aware of the possible consequences for doing so!”

Harry looked pale now. “This duel with Malfoy isn’t going to do any of– of that, is it?” he asked, sounding horrified.

“No,” Millie told him shortly. “Which is fortunate for you. This is not the sort of mistake you can afford to make twice.”

Harry nodded hurriedly; his eyes wide. “I won’t,” he promised. “I swear, I won’t.”

Millie glared sharply at him but seemed to decide he was appropriately repentant. “Hermione, teach him– I don’t know, something,” she said with a dismissive wave of her hand, “Neville, you can keep practicing on me.”

Hermione looked delightedly after Millie as she marched away, Neville following after her. Her fellow Slytherin really had come so far from the unsure, insecure girl she had been, even just a few short weeks ago.

“Come on, Harry,” she said happily, “I’m going to teach you how to make people sneeze.”

“…sneeze?” Harry asked, obviously trying not to sound like he was doubting her when he very much doubted her,

“You try casting a spell when you can’t even see straight, let alone speak, because you can’t stop sneezing,” Hermione said, brandishing her wand threateningly at him. “Would you like a demonstration?”

Harry hastily assured her he had complete faith in her and did not doubt her at all.

Ron, watching them, practically howled with laughter– until Hermione sweetly thanked him for offering to be their practice dummy. Then he spent the next hour running around the classroom, dodging, while Harry chased after him, trying to hit him with the jinx.

Ultimately, it was with mixed feelings that they parted. Some levity had been restored to the five of them, however the upcoming midnight duel could not be forgotten. The boys had wanted to keep practicing but Hermione insisted that they take a break for dinner, with Millie backing her up. To not show up, she had to explain to the Gryffindors, would be an act of cowardice, intentional or not. It would say that they were ashamed or hiding away or that they lacked the confidence to face Draco.

This certainly lit a fire in the Gryffindors– apparently, implying cowardice was the gravest insult that could be given to a member of the House of the Bold. Hermione couldn’t help but watch with pride as Ron and Harry flanked Neville, the three marching into the Great Hall and over to the Gryffindor table, heads held high, not a hint of unease evident, not even in Neville whose face was slightly pale but set in determination. As the trio reached the table, Fred and George immediately moved to make space for them, the two older Gryffindors flanking the three younger students in turn, folding them into the protection of their lion pride.

“Regardless of the outcome of the duel,” Hermione said thoughtfully and with no small amount of gleeful spite, “I think Malfoy is about to have a very bad couple of weeks.”

“The Weasley twins aren’t going to let a Slytherin get away with targeting one of their little brother’s friends like that,” Millie agreed, looking viciously satisfied. “I know the Gryffs are different, that wherever and whoever they sit with isn’t about alliances and stuff, not like it is at our House table, but there’s no way that the twins calling them over like that isn’t about sending a message– I bet they’re pissed.”

She sounded quite delighted at the thought.

“Malfoy didn’t think much of my declaration of protection,” Hermione said with a serene smile, “but I’ll be very interested to see what he thinks of the twins’ declaration.”

Millie laughed at that, and she was still laughing as they sat across from Draco at the table. He had a tight, haughty look on his pointed face, but there was fear evident in his pale eyes too as Hermione let her mouth curl into a slow smile that visibly disturbed him. “Malfoy,” she said, nodding slightly before turning her attention to Millie. In her peripheral vision, she could see that Draco looked like he didn’t know whether to be pissed or grateful for her dismissal of him, which clearly went to show just how thick he was– he should beweeping in gratitude.

They went back to their dorms after dinner– waiting around an empty classroom after hours was just asking to get caught– and Hermione entertained herself with her homework until half-past eleven. Millie was still awake but the rest of their dorm-mates were asleep. As they crept out, she was grateful to see that the common room was empty– not that she thought any of the older years would have stopped them.

It was stressful sneaking through the castle. Hermione didn’t dare light her wand to show the way, instead relying on the thin bars of moonlight that peeked through the gaps in the high windows. The suits of armour glinted eerily and each creak had her adrenaline surge.

Hermione was relieved to reach the trophy room. She and Millie were first to arrive. The crystal trophy cases glimmered where the moonlight caught them. Cups, shields, plates, and statues winked silver and gold in the darkness. She and Millie edged along the walls, keeping their eyes on the doors at either end of the room.

Harry, Ron and Neville were next to arrive, Neville announcing their arrival with a stumble that sent one of the smaller statues tumbling to the floor. It was only Harry’s hasty dive that caught it before it could crash against the stone beneath them.

There was a breathless moment where they all waited silently for a professor to swoop into the room, before relaxing.

“That was close,” Hermione whispered.

She spoke too soon.

“Sniff around, my sweet, they might be lurking in a corner.”

Hermione’s eyes widened as she looked around at the others in horror. That was Filch– talking to Mrs Norris!

“Oh bugger!” She breathed, meeting Millie’s eyes with dawning understanding. Millie’s eyes turned dark with fury.

“Malfoy set us up!” she hissed.

Harry waved madly at them, rushing over to the opposite door from where Filch’s voice was coming from and they ran after him. Neville had barely turned the corner, half-tripping in his haste, when they heard Filch enter the trophy room.

“They’re in here somewhere,” the caretaker growled, “probably hiding!”

“Run!” Harry hissed, somewhat unnecessarily.

They ran.

In the dark, Hermione had no idea where they were going. At some point, they tumbled through a hidden passageway, coming out near their Charms classroom, which was far enough from the trophy room that Hermione thought they might have gotten away.

The others clearly thought so too. Harry had leaned against the wall, wiping his head, Neville was bent over double, wheezing and spluttering, Millie was gasping for breath and even in the dim light Hermione could see that Ron’s face was as red as his hair.

Witches and wizards clearly did not prioritise physical fitness, Hermione couldn’t help but think. All that wand-waving did make them awfully lazy– Harry was obviously the least out of breath besides her, and he was the closest to a muggleborn out of the others.

“We need to get back to our dorms,” Millie said grimly, between her gasping breaths. “If we’re lucky, Malfoy only told Filch– if he told our Head of Houses, they could check our beds at any time, and if they find us missing…” she trailed off and the three Gryffindors looked at her in horror.

“Filch is the only one he could have told,” Hermione hastened to reassure them. “He couldn’t have told Professor McGonagall without explaining how he knew we’d be out of bed– and then he’d be buggered too.”

Looking slightly reassured, they set off, but to Hermione’s dismay, they barely made it more than a dozen paces before a doorknob rattled and something came shooting out of a classroom in front of them.

It was Peeves, the poltergeist that called Hogwarts his home. Hermione knew he would be trouble from the moment he caught sight of them and cackled in delight.

“Shut up, Peeves– please– you’ll get us thrown out!” Harry hissed desperately.

Peeves just cackled. “Wandering around at midnight, Ickle Firsties? Tut, tut, tut. Naughty, naughty, you’ll get caughty!” he sang mockingly, and Hermione could feel the tension rise in her as Peeves didn’t bother to keep his voice down.

Hermione didn’t waste time arguing with the poltergeist. It was clear Peeves had no intention of helping them– only in causing as much trouble as he could. Facing the jeering poltergeist, frantic at the thought of just what Professor Snape would do to her and Millie if they got caught out of bed out of hours, Hermione lunged forward, swinging her fist at Peeves. While normally this would be about as useful and effective as trying to eat soup with a fork, Hermione had made sure to swing with her right fist– the wrist she wore her charm bracelet, with its iron charms.

Ghosts and spirits of all kinds were vulnerable to iron, after all.

Peeves shrieked as her fist passed through him. The sound was high and piercing, nothing even close to human, and his entire form flickered wildly before he dove through the stone floor below them, disappearing beneath the slabs.

“Come on!” Hermione hissed when the other four just looked at her stunned, gesturing for them to hurry after her. Hearing Filch’s fast-approaching thundering footsteps, they hurriedly complied.

They sprinted down the corridor, feet pounding against the stones, hearts in their throats. The door at the end was locked but Hermione opened it with a wave of her hand and they all tumbled through it, slamming it shut behind them and hastily locking it again.

For half a second, Hermione thought that would be it, that they’d escaped– and then she felt the hot huff of air and spun around to look straight into the eyes of a bloody cerberus; a humongous three-headed dog that filled the whole space between ceiling and floor. Its three pairs of eyes were rolling, mad, its three mouths drooling, saliva hanging in slippery ropes from yellowish, jagged fangs.

It was standing still, as if frozen, and Hermione was very aware that it was only the fact that it was as shocked by their sudden appearance as they were by it that it hadn’t attacked them already– a shock it was quickly getting over.

She had seconds to decide how to act.

There was truth to all myths, even if it was just a seed– something that had taken root and later bloomed. Hermione had spent years of her life devouring mythology, and considering it was her namesake Greek mythology was a special interest of hers. She knew the tragic myth of Orpheus and how he had defied all the odds and travelled to the Underworld to retrieve his lost love.

Cerberus guarded the Underworld, keeping the living out, however Orpheus managed to pass him. Not because he was a mighty warrior, but because he played music so beautiful that he could charm birds, beasts, even rocks– trees, it was said, picked up their roots to follow him. Hermes may have invented the lyre, but Orpheus perfected it.

Hermione was no musician, that was true. But she was bonded to a phoenix, she had sung harmonies with her sister-of-her-soul, and she sung them now, sweet, piping notes without lyrics, pulling on the golden magic inside her, letting it fill her, the notes rising in volume.

The cerberus swayed in place, its legs buckling beneath it, and Hermione hastily nudged Millie, gesturing at the door. Millie, white-faced, quickly nodded, tapping the door with her wand, whispering, “alohomora!” and shoving it open. They all stumbled out, slamming the door shut behind them and Hermione locked it, before reaching out to grip onto Millie, her hands shaking with adrenaline.

“How did you know to sing?” Ron asked her, wide-eyed and shaken.

“I– I didn’t,” Hermione admitted shakily, leaning into Millie. “I– I guessed. From a muggle myth.”

“I know I’ve said this before,” Millie said, shifting slightly so her arm was curled around Hermione, “and I’ve meant it every time– but I’m going to kill Malfoy.”

“He’s going to pay for this,” Ron said darkly. “And believe me– I grew up with the twins, I know how to get revenge.”

There was no disagreement on any of their faces. Draco may have only meant the whole evening as a prank– one to get them expelled, probably– but because of him their lives had been in danger and none of them would forget that any time soon.

Finally splitting up to return to their dorms, promising to meet the next morning after breakfast, Hermione waited until she and Millie were safely back in the Slytherin girl’s dorms before asking, “Do you think the boys noticed the trap door it was standing on?”

“They’re Gryffindors,” Millie said with a roll of her eyes, “of course they didn’t. Are we going to tell them?”

“We probably shouldn’t,” Hermione said. “They’re Gryffindors, after all. Who knows what sort of trouble they’d get into with that sort of information.”

“…you’re going to tell them anyway,” Millie sounded resigned.

“…yes, probably.”

::

Hermione would have liked to confront Draco in the common room. Unsurprisingly, however, the coward had already fled to the Great Hall and she and Millie grimly made their way to breakfast in the Great Hall where Draco assumed he would be untouchable as inner-House conflict was forbidden outside the Slytherin common room.

He assumed wrong.

As Hermione and Millie sat across from Draco a hush settled over the table. Hermione spoke first. “Malfoy,” she said calmly, taking care to speak quietly enough that she wouldn’t be overheard by the other Houses, but loud enough that most of the Slytherins should be able to hear if they were quiet enough. “I have to say, I didn’t think you had a cunning bone in your body. I assumed it was your ambition alone that got you Sorted into Slytherin. Your little scheme last night, though, to challenge Harry and Neville to an after-hours duel and then set them up, telling Filch where the duel would be... that was certainly more cunning then I would have ever given you credit. But it certainly does live up to your name, Bad Faith.”

‘Malfoy’ really was an unfortunate surname, though she imagined very few dared to point it out.

Draco’s pale cheeks flushed pink, in either anger or humiliation, Hermione wasn’t sure. But she wasn’t done with him yet.

“Of course,” she said, softly, sweetly, deadly as a striking cobra, her fangs aiming straight for his jugular, “the Malfoy family does have a standing precedent of bad faith... making promises, swearing vows of loyalty, with no intention of seeing them through… like father, like son, I suppose.”

There was a moment of dead silence over the Slytherin table, as if nobody could quite believe she had actually gone there, that she had alluded to Lucius Malfoy’s claims of acting under the Imperius Curse instead of owning up to the fact he was a Death Eater and going to prison for it, betraying the vows he’d once made to his master. Even Draco looked too stunned to say anything. Hermione smiled at him, showing all of her teeth. “With such an... upstanding example to look up to,” she said, softly, “I’m not at all surprised you chose to hide under someone else’s skirts instead of honouring the vows you made and facing the consequences of your own choices with your pride intact.”

“How very insightful of you, Miss Granger,” Lestrange had a viciously pleased look on his face. Hermione had figured by this point that Rainier Lestrange was most likely the son of Rabastan Lestrange, a convicted Death Eater who had proudly declared his loyalty and servitude in Voldemort at his trial, holding to the oaths he’d sworn and been imprisoned for life in Azkaban for it. In light of that, she could definitely understand why Rainier Lestrange would hold a particular animosity towards the Malfoy family for their bad faith towards Voldemort.

Personally, Hermione fully supported people turning on Voldemort. The more, the better! Only, Lucius Malfoy hadn’t turned on his former Master because it was the decent, proper thing to do as a human being of good conscience, he’d done it because it was convenient to himself, in order to save his own sorry hide. And that was just despicable to her.

Draco’s face was now flushed dark pink with his anger and humiliation and he looked furious enough that he could tear her apart with his bare hands. “You uppity mudblood!” He hissed, at least having the sense to speak quietly enough that his foul words wouldn’t be overheard.

“You call me a mudblood,” Hermione said to him, almost thoughtfully, “like I should be ashamed of my muggle aunt and uncle who love me, who call me brilliant, who taught me to be strong, resourceful and hardworking. You throw the word around like you think I want to be just like you. You expect me to be ashamed, but I’m not. You expect it to hurt me, to shatter my resolve, to break my heart and spirit, but all it does is remind me of those who make me strong.”

It was clear that Draco didn’t know how to respond to this. Hermione didn’t think anyone sitting at Slytherin table did. Her smile widened, nothing at all pleasant visible in the curve of her mouth. “By the way, Neville accepts your forfeit, Malfoy,” she added casually. “He understands that your fear of facing a superior opponent has resulted in you bowing out from the duel.”

“I was not afraid of that loser!” Draco barely managed to keep from shouting in his sheer indignation.

“Your forfeit says otherwise,” Hermione said sweetly. “But truly, Neville does understand. He knows that after you lost your last duel so badly, you must have been too scared to face him.”

Draco looked almost apoplectic with barely-concealed rage. Lestrange was laughing, not even bothering to hide his amusement the way Rosier was behind a raised goblet of pumpkin juice. Many of the other Slytherins were also subtlety concealing their amusement.

“I am not afraid, and I’ll prove it!” Draco snarled.

”No thank you, we’re not interested in having to deal with another poor attempt of a set-up,” Hermione said dismissively, finishing her last piece of toast. She was about to ask Millie if she was ready to leave when Vashti swooped down with a loud, hair-raising cry, the sound unusually eerie enough to turn heads. The morning rays of sun caught Vashti’s feathers as she glided through the Great Hall, turning her brown feathers glowing bright and golden.

“She’s so beautiful,” Millie murmured as Vashti landed gracefully on Hermione’s outstretched arm.

“She is,” Hermione agreed warmly. Vashti was carrying a large package along with a letter, which Hermione might be concerned about if she didn’t know that phoenixes could carry immensely heavy loads.

Curious, she opened the letter and burst into surprised laughter.

“What is it?” Millie asked.

“I can’t believe I forgot!” She said, still laughing

“Forgot what?” Millie prodded her.

“That today I turn twelve,” Hermione said, with a wide smile. “Happy birthday to me!”

Her life had been so busy lately and considering she hadn’t been around her family and friends who knew when her birthday was, she had truly forgotten that it had been fast-approaching. But Loki hadn’t forgotten– her god never forgot her.

Opening the outer brown paper of the package revealed the bright golden paper tied with a gaudy green bow beneath and even without the birthday card from Loki, Hermione would immediately know who the present was from. Carefully peeling back the paper revealed a polished wooden box and Hermione opened it, beaming. Inside there were two beautiful, leather-bound books with gold-leaf lettering stamped into the leather; one was Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’, the other Niccolò Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’, and several beautiful pieces of snake-themed jewellery.

Carefully lifting the book, she opened it to trace the black ink, hungrily breathing in the smell of parchment. It was clearly old, but in perfect condition– and, to her delight, it had been signed, the distinguished signature of Niccolò Machiavelli artfully curling across the inside of the cover. Considering it was an English translation of the text– and that Machiavelli had died years before a printed version of his manuscript was even available– that should have been impossible, but she supposed when her god was capable of time-travel she shouldn’t be too surprised.

Apparently, Loki’s response to her earlier issues with Slytherin House was to arm her with knowledge from two of the greatest political, military, tactical minds the world had known. Oh, she adored him!

The jewellery was beautiful too– of course it was, her god had excellent taste for pretty, expensive things. The golden snake-shaped ear cuff was beautiful; with three coils to curve along the shell of her ear, the little snake was detailed down to its belly scales with glittering emerald eyes. The hairpin set were similar; the golden snake-shaped pins decorated with exquisite detailing and tiny little glittering emeralds for their eyes, and, of course, he’d given her a new charm for her bracelet; light-hearted and playful, golden coils of twin snakes twisting whimsically into a heart shape.

“Oh, he spoils me,” Hermione murmured, her heart aching to throw her arms around her god, to smell his burnt-sugar-burning-ozone scent, but she still smiled, blinking back the sudden tears.

“Wow,” Millie murmured, as she peered over Hermione’s shoulder.

“Here,” Hermione somewhat impulsively, picking up one of the twin snake hairpins and leaning over to slide it into Millie’s hair then beaming brightly at her. “They can be like our version of friendship bracelets!” she said happily, picking up one which she slid into her own hair. Millie looked too bewildered to protest and Hermione turned her attention to the birthday card, written entirely in Ancient Norse.

To my dearest little chaos-bringer,

Happy Birthday, cupcake! We all miss you, though your adventures so far have certainly been keeping us entertained – and, incidentally, given me several grey hairs. Which shouldn’t even be possible for one of my kind!

I hope your presents help out with those little issues you’re having with your House. Remember, you can write to me whenever you want.

Keep up the chaos!

L.

“Love you too,” Hermione murmured, tracing the curves of the symbols as her heart warmed in her chest.

What a perfect birthday surprise.

::