A/N: Big thanks to my beta, Severus Snape's Beloved, for her brilliant idea of "rock-cake, parchment, wand" in lieu of "rocks, paper, scissors".
Anti-Litigation Charm: I do not own.
Please be sure to review! ;)
Hermione and the boys met up with Lily at Flourish and Blotts, just as James had said they would, and after they paid for their things, the happy couple walked off together for some of Florean Fortescue's ice cream, leaving Hermione in the company of Sirius and Remus. Peter begged off, since he was planning on meeting Mary at The Magical Menagerie. They were all perfectly content with this, and they did a quick match of rock-cake, parchment, and wand to decide what to get next first. Remus won, and they strode off to Madam Malkin's for some new robes.
"You know," Sirius said loftily, turning around in front of the mirror to admire his reflection. His new robes now hung at the right height, which had not been the case toward the end of last year, when he had apparently gone through a growth spurt and not had the opportunity to take care of it in regards to his wardrobe. "I dare say I actually look quite handsome."
Hermione and Remus both made an enormous production of gagging at this.
Hermione, who had to spread her money thin, was prepared to buy second-hand robes when Sirius placed a hand on her shoulder.
"I thought you said you had enough money?"
"I earned enough over the summer to pay for everything," Hermione said, looking down at the price tag of the robes she was trying on. Now she had a distinct feeling of what it was like to be Ron. "But I have to conserve what I have, because it's all I've got."
Sirius folded his arms, his expression turned both serious and concerned. "Why are you so determined to do everything yourself?"
Hermione winced. "I don't want you guys to feel like you have to help me."
"Hermione, we don't have to help, we want to help," Sirius told her, taking the robes out of her hand and waving them away, where they floated themselves back on their rack. He took her arm and led her to the other side of the store, where Hermione had shopped often with her parents and two best friends for her robes in previous years. "D'you know that I live at James's place now? Ran away from home last year. I have enough money from my Uncle Alphard to buy a house, but James insists I live with him instead until we leave school and get a job."
Hermione bit her lower lip in indecision as Sirius waved Madam Malkin over to help her try on a fresh set of robes. The woman bustled over in their direction, and he continued;
"Just let us do nice stuff for you," he insisted, as Madam Malkin spelled the new robes onto Hermione's body and began magically adjusting them. "That's what friends do. Save the money you earned over the summer for emergencies and when you want to buy yourself something pretty. Or new quills," he added, laughing at the look on Hermione's face. "You're always running out of quills."
"You're sure?" Hermione asked, as Madam Malkin spelled the robes back off, replacing them with Hermione's old pair, and receiving a nod from Sirius, collected two sets and carried them off to the front to total them up.
"If it makes you feel better, you can pay us back later," Sirius said, holding a straight face. "We'll charge you interest, and ask for your arm, leg, and first born child."
Hermione grinned sheepishly, and unable to hold it back any further, broke into laughter. "Thank you, Sirius."
They paid for their things, and were about to leave when the door opened. Hermione stiffened when she saw two very familiar faces enter, one more a more welcome sight than the other. She had only ever seen Lucius Malfoy once, but even at the age of twenty-six, his appearance had changed little. The only noticable difference, other than the fact that he was missing a great deal of lines on his face, was the fact that he did not carry a cane. Hermione supposed that would come later.
Severus stood next to him, and he took in the scene in front of him, with Hermione preparing to leave with two of the Marauders at her side. His eyes flitted about the room, as though looking for a third, and then rested on Hermione.
Sirius and Remus both growled low in their throats, and Hermione was afraid that they were going to start fighting right here in the shop. Remus had little trouble with Severus, but even she had a hard time not whipping out her wand and hexing Malfoy's supercillious sneer off his pale, pointy face.
"Well, well," Malfoy drawled, "if it isn't Potter's dogs. Did he pick up a stray Mudblood cat, too?"
Hermione held her arms out on either side, lightly touching her companions on the arm to ask them to please keep their temper in check. No wands were pulled out, but the hostile glares remained in place. She stood up straight, nose in the air, and stepped up to Severus until she was almost nose to nose with him.
"How was your summer?" she asked, ignoring Malfoy entirely. She saw the blond man twitch at this, clearly incensed at the snub.
"Eventful," Severus responded, his tone neutral, perhaps even dismissive, but his eyes demanded to know what she thought she was doing. He was sneering at her, as though repulsed by her proximity to him, but nevertheless engaged in what could have passed for politeness. "Yours?"
Hermione suddenly felt a strange sort of proding against her consciousness, and it took only a split second for her to realize that it was Severus—attempting Legilimency on her. He slipped through for only a moment, because Hermione slammed her defenses down on him like a guillotine. Returning to the present, she saw the surprise and recoil in his eyes.
"Eventful," Hermione echoed in a similarly calm and uninflective tone, tilting her head to one side as she looked at him. "You've grown another inch. Lovely. That would explain why you'd need new robes, I think," she said, taking a step to the side. "Please, don't let my presence here stop you. I'll be a thorn in your side soon enough. Enjoy yourself," she added lightly, gesturing to Remus and Sirius to follow her as she slipped right past him. He stiffened as their shoulders brushed. "See you at the Welcoming Feast."
Remus and Sirius were out of the shop with her in a flash, and they turned around to watch the door close behind them. Malfoy was wearing an ugly sneer, and Severus looked oddly puzzled and bored. With a smug smile, Hermione grabbed Remus and Sirius by the arm and began dragging them off in the direction of the apothecary.
"Well, Hermione," Sirius said, once they were out of eavesdropping range of the shop, his tone faintly impressed, even admiring. "You sure know how to get under Malfoy's skin."
"It's a talent," Hermione said, now distracted as she consulted her list to see what ingredients they needed to stock up on.
"That was crazy, but brilliant," Sirius said, and he lowered his voice as they entered the shop. "And the look on Snape's face—the greasy git! You caught them both completely off-guard!"
"I thought Snape was your friend," Remus said, eyeing the aconite on the shelf with a wary eye before picking up a jar and reluctantly sniffing it.
"He is," Hermione said sardonically, double-checking her list before pulling a jar of lionfish spines off a shelf. "But you really can't expect us to go off and chat amiably when we've got you two and Lucius Malfoy to contend with. I rather imagine it would turn into a massacre."
Remus shrugged. "It's just that one would sort of expect the two of you to be—well—friendlier toward each other."
"The way Snivellus acted back there?" Sirius quipped. "That almost passed as gentlemanly for him."
Hermione shook her head, smiling, but didn't respond. She was too busy going over what had happened at Madam Malkin's in her head. Severus had used Legilimency on her—or had at least tried. She was certain that he had never done so before, and knew that he had seen absolutely nothing of any import. Hermione had already shoved all her thoughts and memories of her past life into the back of her mind; it would take some significant digging to come upon it.
But the look on his face when she had thrown him out had been one of complete shock—and possibly pain. Hermione had not been gentle. Her training with Moody and Kingsley had taught her not to be gentle. In truth, Hermione was not really angry at him for trying. He had probably wanted to know what she was doing, what her intentions were when she was putting him in such a precarious position in front of his friend, and he had decided to use a silent and—so he thought—undetectable and efficient way to do it.
That was another thing. Where had he learned that spell?
The answer that came was a sobering one for Hermione as she carried her stuff up to the front of the apothecary to pay for her things. She had always assumed that Professor Snape had learned Occlumency either on his own or had tutored under Professor Dumbledore. It had not occurred—no, she hadn't wanted to even think about it—but she hadn't truly given much thought to the idea that Voldemort would have taught him. She would have laughed it off; why would Voldemort teach his servants such complicated, delicate, discplined magic when he considered them all expendable pawns? But the truth was that Voldemort was more than capable of differentiating between thug-like pawns and versatile knights. They were all expendable to him, but some were more useful than others, and were thus more worthy of the time and energy it took into maximizing their potential for his benefit.
Severus was discplined. He was cunning and sharp. He excelled in dark magic in a way that made Hermione think he was practically born to do it. In a manner of speaking, this made him as much of a threat to Voldemort as he was useful, which was why Hermione would have thought that teaching Severus—or having a fellow Death Eater teach him—would have been something the Dark Lord would have had the brains to avoid for the sake of keeping Severus vulnerable enough to be kept under his thumb.
But Voldemort was clearly too prideful, too confident, too secure in his own prowess to think that Severus would ever become skilled enough at Occlumency to surpass his own Legilimency skills.
Hermione shook her head and sighed. She had no doubt that Severus would confront her about this incident when they met again at Hogwarts.
How would this continuing division of sides affect their fledgling friendship?
When Hermione said good-bye to her friends later that evening, after all seven of them—the four Marauders plus Mary, Hermione, and Lily—had eaten out at the Leaky Cauldron for dinner, she Flooed back to Hogwarts, directly into Professor McGonagall's office. The professor in question was in there, enjoying a book and a biscuit. She paid Hermione little attention as she swept in, only looking up to give her a tight smile in greeting before returning to her book.
Hermione promptly went to bed after setting her new purchases aside, and woke up the next morning to find that the house elves had put them all away. Only slightly annoyed with this, Hermione nevertheless summoned breakfast and then went down to the library with her new schoolbooks to get a head-start on reading.
Professor Dumbledore found her curled up between two bookcases in the corner of the library, next to a stained-glass window, that was so secluded that students rarely ever went there. It was the same place Hermione had gone to comfort Severus that morning after the incident with the Shrieking Shack. This spot was a quiet comfort to Hermione, and it was no surprise that she decided to do her reading there.
"I see you're getting ahead on your reading already," Dumbledore told her cheerfully as he summoned a chair for himself and sat down.
Hermione looked up, lowering The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 6 only slightly. "It's a good way to pass the time," she supplied.
"Have you been practicing your Occulumency lately?" Dumbledore inquired calmly. For all Hermione knew, he could have been talking about the weather or the latest news on Quidditch. Her eyebrows rose slightly at this, and then her eyes narrowed.
"Yes," she answered honestly, sitting up a little straighter and setting her book face down on her lap. "I had a run-in with Severus yesterday."
"I see." Dumbledore waited patiently for her to go on.
Hermione sighed, and let it all out in one breath. "Over the summer, someone's taught him legilimency. He… he tried to use it on me when I ran into him at Madam Malkin's, in Diagon Alley."
Dumbledore steepled his fingers together, his expression thoughtful. "How did that make you feel?"
Hermione gave the headmaster a wry smile. "Annoyed."
"You won't be sharing very many of your classes with Severus this year," Dumbledore observed.
"I won't be sharing any of them with him," Hermione corrected. "He's in seventh-year Arithmancy now. I'm stuck with the fifth and sixth years, I suppose," she finished, sounding rather unhappy at this prospect.
"That's quite a disappointment," the Headmaster mused. "The two of you worked so well together, and I rather think you helped ease the pain of his lonliness during those last two months." His eyes twinkled with merriment as he added, "Septima had quite a bit to say about your collaborative skills."
Hermione grinned sheepishly at this, but her smile subsided quickly. "I feel like I just found a friend in him—someone who's my intellectual equal, you see—and I feel as though I'm already losing him."
"We don't know what we have until it's gone," Dumbledore said simply, with a sad half-smile. "I'm certain, however, that Severus has come to value your friendship more than he lets on."
Hermione smiled faintly, not at all convinced. "I hope you're right, sir."
Dumbledore left shortly after, leaving Hermione to her thoughts and her book. She spent the next two weeks coming back to the library and reading, and then on the night of September 1st, she was startled by the sound of footsteps. She was still waiting for the train to arrive, and it seemed quite late already, but—
Severus Snape rounded the corner and stopped just outside the cozy cave of literature Hermione had esconced herself in for the last couple of days. His eyebrows rose when he saw her books stacked around her, and he frowned.
"You weren't at the Welcoming Feast," he said coolly. He picked his way through the mess until he was less than a foot away, towering over her in a manner that intimidatingly reminiscent of Professor Snape. "I wondered why—I should have guessed it would be books."
"I didn't hear the students come in," Hermione said, standing up slowly, her book sliding from her lap. "I take that to mean I missed the sorting?"
"I'm afraid so," Severus drawled.
"Oh, well," Hermione said with a sigh, pointing her wands at her books. A flick, and they all returned themselves neatly into her bookbag, which Hermione reached down to hoist over her shoulder. "I was rather hoping to hear the Sorting Hat's song."
"It was rubbish," Severus said dismissively, stepping back to allow Hermione to pass before following her. "It's the same stuff as always. I wouldn't be surprised if the hat sits atop a thesaurus all year, looking up new ways to say the same thing twice."
Hermione giggled at this, and they set off through the library.
"Regardless of the hat's feeble attempts at creativity, you missed dinner," Severus noted, sounding bored. "Are you going to starve for the rest of the night?"
"No, I'll summon some leftovers to my room," Hermione said with a shrug. "The elves are always willing to help."
"I'll walk you to Gryffindor Tower," Severus offered.
"Don't you need to head down to bed?" Hermione asked.
He gave a derisive snort. "We need to talk."
Hermione pursed her lips. "Do we?"
"I don't see how it can be avoided, Hermione," Severus said, grabbing her shoulder and turning her around on the spot. His demeanor was completely serious. "There are some things that need to be answered, in regards to your… actions."
"What about your own actions?" Hermione whispered, leaning forward until her face was less than an inch from his, her voice low so as to keep eavesdropping portraits from gathering fodder for gossip. "You had no right to probe into my mind. I was only defending myself."
"You were treading on thin ice," Severus said sharply, his voice lowered to match hers. "Provoking Lucius like that only makes things worse for you."
"Worse how?" Hermione demanded quietly.
She saw Severus's eyes flicker uncertainly over her face, and then he replied in as dispassionate a tone as he could muster, "You have caught the Dark Lord's attention."
"I don't believe I know what you're talking about." Hermione made to draw away, but Severus grabbed the neck of her robes and pulled her forward, until his mouth was level with her ear.
"Think, Hermione!" Severus hissed. "You're a Muggle-born, which instantly makes you a target. Furthermore, you are extremely talented, which makes you a threat. To top it off, you have drawn attention to yourself by your sudden appearance last April, as well as your orphan status. As if that was not enough, you have defied him twice—first, with that stunt you pulled at The Three Broomsticks, the second time with Lucius back in Diagon Alley."
"You heard about what happened in The Three Broomsticks?" Hermione repeated.
"Rowle was howling with fury," Severus said, releasing her. "After he realized he'd been tricked, he tried to find you again, but word was that you quit your job the next day."
"I did," Hermione told him archly. "I didn't fancy another run-in with him."
"You should have been sorted into Slytherin," Severus said, giving her a thin-lipped smile. "You know when to run and hide and when to stand your ground."
"You mistake common sense for cunning," Hermione told him, but she was smiling and relaxed now. Switching subjects, she added, "I've missed you, you know. I was quite bored without you to talk to. Are we still on for studying in the library in the evening?"
"Yes. It's a shame I won't have you in my Arithmancy class, though." They had resumed walking again, and left the library, heading down the corridor closest to the hall of staircases. "How many OWLs did you get?"
"Nine 'Outstandings' and one 'Exceeds Expectations,'" Hermione said, scowling.
"Merlin, you actually sound disappointed," he drawled.
Hermione glared at him, and then her expression softened with tiredness and she sighed. "I expected to do better in Defense Against the Dark Arts," she admitted, "but I guess it's always been my weakness. When I was fourteen, I failed the final part of my end-of-year exam when I ended up facing a boggart."
"Don't tell me you ran away screaming," Severus snorted.
Hermione's face turned red. "I did."
"What was it?"
"My… my Transfiguration teacher." Severus arched an eyebrow at her, and she elaborated resignedly, "She told me that I'd failed everything."
Severus stared at her for a moment in utter disbelief, and then crossed his arms over his chest, threw back his head, and laughed.
Hermione had already had her schedule taken care of, so while Professor McGonagall went down the Gryffindor Table to clear up everyone's schedules in conjunction to the NEWTs they wanted to take, Hermione ate her breakfast, bid good-bye to her friends, and trotted off to her first class.
Severus caught up with her, and the two began walked toward the third floor, where Hermione had Defense Against the Dark Arts first.
"I've been meaning to speak to you about this," he said in a low voice, not wanting to be overheard despite the fact that the corridors were nearly deserted, save for the portraits. But the portraits had open ears and working tongues, which Hermione supposed was reason enough. "I saw Lily with Potter back in Diagon Alley, at Fortescue's."
His tone demanded an answer. Hermione sighed, not wanting to be made the bearer of bad news, but knowing she was going to have to be the one to break it to him regardless. "They're together, yes."
Severus swore. "Damn him."
"You shouldn't worry about that right now," Hermione told him, stopping in front of the door to the classroom. "Focus on your classes. Worry about Lily later."
She saw Severus's face contort bitterly, and then he turned away to leave for his own classroom, which was on the next floor. Hermione shook her head, wishing there was something she could do for him to get his mind off of Lily. But there was really very little she could do for him; this was something he was going to have to work out on his own. She watched him disappear around the corner and then entered the classroom.
Last year's Defense teacher was absent, Hermione noted as she took her seat. Rumors in the Gryffindor Common Room last night claimed he had gone on a trip to Africa when term ended, and had been eaten by a nundu. Hermione winced at the thought, wondering if the Defense job was still jinxed, and looked over at the new teacher, who was sitting at his desk scribbling on a piece of parchment.
Class began, and he promptly stood up, flicking his wand toward the board. The name 'Gerard Faulkner' began to write itself on the board in a sharp, pointed scrawl. He appeared to be middle-aged, with dark hair and light grey eyes. He spoke softly, but authoritatively.
"My name is Professor Faulkner," he said, coming around to lean against the front of his desk to face the class. "I will be your new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. I do not expect to return next year." His voice was calm and matter-of-fact about this. "What you get out of this class depends entirely on how much you put into it. I will give you no quarter." He tapped his wand against the desk. "You have been warned."
It was a rather sobering statement to hear on the first day of class.
"You are now sixth-year students," Faulkner said steadily. "You will be expected to practice using non-verbal spells. Points will be given for success. They will be taken away for attempts to cheat. There is no negotiation with me on this. I have one year to teach you all to be proficient at defending yourself, and then I will be moving on to a new job in the Mariana Islands." He smiled faintly at this. "Part of defending yourself is knowing how to do it silently. It provides you a split-second of advantage over your opponent if they cannot discern what spell you are about to cast from verbalization alone, and every second counts."
The class shifted uneasily at this, some looking interested, others looking as though they wished they had dropped this class first chance they got.
"You will now divide yourself," Faulkner said evenly, "into pairs. One will be on the offensive, the other on the defensive. Both will participate in complete silence." He gestured at the class. "Begin."
I'll take him over Umbridge any day, Hermione thought as she got to her feet. The students in the class quickly divided themselves up into pairs, and Hermione found herself facing Barty Crouch. He gave her a nasty smirk, positioned himself several feet away from her, and leisurely aimed his wand.
Hermione had her wand up and at the ready. She stood there, waiting patiently for nearly twenty minutes for a spell that didn't seem as though it would be materializing. Crouch's face turned red with unrewarded effort. All around the room, some students were cheating by muttering the spell under their breath. Faulkner deducted points from the guilty pairs, gave them a few suggestions, and then moved on.
A flash of orange suddenly burst from the tip of Crouch's wand, and Hermione flicked her wand at him, silently repelling it with a Shield Charm.
"Excellent," Faulkner said, passing by them. "Fifteen points to Slytherin and Gryffindor, each. Carry on."
Incensed by the ease with which Hermione had silently repelled his jinx, Crouch began shooting at her rapidly, occasionally fumbling the spell, but otherwise managing to do admirably well for a first time. It was remarkable that as soon as he figured out how to do it once, he was now doing it with rapidly-climbing ease. He had apparently gotten the gist of it now, and was practicing in earnest. Hermione flicked his spells away with lazy, repetitive flicks of her wand. Eventually, tired of being nothing but the target, Hermione ducked his last spell and shot a Confundus Charm at him.
Crouch was woefully unprepared for this, and ended up being thrown back into the desks behind him. He struggled to stand, wearing a bemused and dizzy look, scrambling at the desks around him for purchase. Faulkner clapped appreciatively at this.
"Excellent," he repeated as before. "You caught your opponent unawares, and furthermore, silently. Another fifteen points to Gryffindor."
Crouch bared his teeth at her, and looked as though he were about to attempt to exact revenge when the bell rang, signalling that class was dismissed.
Saved by the bell, Hermione thought smugly as she packed her bags up and headed out.
Hermione's classes went smoothly, or as smoothly as could be expected. The workload had increased near-exponentially. The other teachers started off the year by reminding them that they were now NEWT students, and then assigning them a load of homework that Hermione overheard many students swearing was an inhumane and punishable amount. She ignored them. When she left dinner later that evening, she headed straight for the library, after James and Sirius had bid good-bye and gone off to the Quidditch Pitch for one-on-one practice.
She found her usual table, spread her stuff out, and began chipping away.
Severus joined her an hour later. Hermione greeted him with a smile—which he did not return— and returned to her work. They sat in utter and complete, somewhat sullen, silence until Hermione finally set her thirteen-inch Charms essay aside and leaned back in her chair to look at him.
"How much work do you have?" she asked, eyeing the papers scattered over at his end of the table.
He snorted. "A lot."
"Can you give me an estimate for when you'll be finished with it?"
"Some of it is due later this week," he said tightly. "I'm finishing it all now."
"Alright, then," Hermione said, standing up to gather her stuff. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Severus's head shot up. "No—wait," he said, setting his quill down. "Why are you leaving?"
"Because I've finished, and I have better things I can do with my time than sit here and watch you work and sulk," Hermione said stiffly.
Severus glared at her, and then subsided with a sigh and looked back down at his work. He brought a finger to his lips, tracing them the way he did when he was deep in thought.
"Give me fifteen minutes to finish this, and then we'll go down to the lake," he said, picking up his quill and resuming the paragraph he'd left off.
Hermione gathered her stuff up, and then wandered over to the closest bookshelf to find something to read. She browsed through for several minutes, before she heard the sound of shuffling papers, and turned around to find Severus putting his stuff away. He slung his book bag over his shoulder, indicated that Hermione should grab hers, and strode away.
Hermione followed him, jogging to catch up, and they walked through the corridors and down the stairs in complete silence until they reached the Entrance Hall. They pushed through the doors, and Severus began stiffly, "There's a lot you've been keeping to yourself since your arrival."
The door ground shut behind them, as they descended the steps into the courtyard. "We both have our fair share of secrets, Severus," Hermione responded calmly, adjusting her bag over her shoulder.
"No one knows a single thing about you," Severus said, his lips curling into a sneer. "You at first appear unremarkable, and then you pull off a stunt like the one in Diagon Alley."
Hermione whipped around to look at him. "What is your problem?" she demanded, starting to get fed up with his erratic, caustic behavior. She knew he was a temperamental git, but damn it, she didn't need this right now. "If you don't want to get burned, don't play with fire. It's that simple."
"My problem is that I don't know a single thing about you!" his voice was laced with pent-up frustration. "I've come to realize that even what I observe from you isn't the truth in its entirety—you claim Defense Against the Dark Arts to be your worst subject, yet you manage to knock Barty Crouch flat without breaking sweat!"
"Oh, he complained about that to you, did he?" Hermione asked, narrowing her eyes at him.
"He was just like Rowle," Severus snapped. "He complained to anyone who would listen. You just keep pulling this stuff from out of nowhere, and other than the fact that it's eventually going to get you killed, I am thoroughly fed up with being caught off guard."
Hermione stiffened, shored up her defenses, and gave him a look of icy calm.
"Anyone who tries to pull something over me is going to be caught off guard," she told him quietly. She turned away, looking out at the lake's glittering shore in the distance. "I don't want to lose you as a friend, Severus, particularly since I already feel like its happening. But if I have secrets of my own, I'll share them if and when I feel like it. Much like you, I suppose." She turned around again to face him. "Can't we just have what we had before?"
Severus was examining her face quietly, as though looking for something, but Hermione didn't feel him probing or poking at her mind with his. He was still keeping his distance on that one, though he looked like he desperately wanted to know what was going on inside her head. Finally, he relented with a sullen nod.
Hermione smiled faintly for a moment, and then it vanished as she brought up yet another unpleasant topic. "I know you have your own troubles to contend with. I don't doubt that your housemates in Slytherin are putting you in a difficult position, and I know that I probably only exacerbate the problem. And then there's Lily…" she trailed off.
Severus pursed his lips and moved to lean against one of the columns supporting the overhanging roof of the steps. "I know I will never get Lily back," he said finally, "but that doesn't make me care for her any less— and I can't help being infuriated by the fact that Potter never ceases to gloat at every chance he gets."
"James doesn't gloat," Hermione said, with a frown.
"Not in front of you, he doesn't," Severus sneered.
"Just ignore it, then," Hermione said with a sigh. She pressed her fingers against her forehead, willing the part of her brain that wanted to go out and just start hexing everyone silly until they learned to behave to subside. Unfortunately, the other side of her brain seemed to think that it had a valid point. "You're discplined enough to perform Legilimency, Severus. Surely you also possess the self-control to look as though you couldn't care less about James Potter."
Severus gave her a sullen glare.
"I know what's happened between the two of you," Hermione said tiredly. Glancing over at the lake, she could see that the tip of the sun was beginning to dip into the water, setting the lake alight with reddish-orange hues. The sun was starting to go down. "I know that the Marauders have made your life a living hell since they first laid eyes on you. It's also not difficult to see just how much you're still hurting from what happened with Lily. But Lily's made her own choices too," Hermione added softly. "She likes James, and my impression is that you broke her trust in you when you lost your temper. It's just how things happen sometimes. You can't control other peoples' actions just by your will alone."
"What would you have done?" Severus snapped.
"Well," Hermione said dryly, "I would have slapped you and then demanded an apology."
"I threatened to sleep outside Gryffindor Tower until she gave me a chance to apologize," Severus responded dully. "She wouldn't forgive me."
"Then that's just Lily," Hermione said firmly, and then sighed. "It's not what I would have done, mind, but…"
"I just want her to be safe," Severus said quietly, refusing to look at her. "She used to be my only friend, and even if she isn't now, I still want the best for her. Even if it's not me."
"I hate to tell you this, but James Potter is a strong wizard," Hermione pointed out, her voice gentle. "He's quite clever, and good with spells. He may be about as mature as his shoe size, but if anyone can protect Lily and make her happy at the same time, I think it's him."
"You would know," Severus responded bitterly.
Sadly enough, Hermione had to agree with him. Glancing back at the lake, where the sun was now drowning in the waters on the horizon, she gestured at it.
"Shall we go?"
Hermione took James aside that evening, after they'd returned to Gryffindor Tower from dinner. Hermione relayed her concerns to him, and James sighed and ruffled his hair, looking rather put-out.
"I don't mean to shove it in his face, I really don't," he said. "But Lily and I sit next to each other in nearly every class now, and I thought—what's the harm with being friendly?"
Hermione's lips twitched. She saw both sides of the issue rather clearly, but there was simply no real resolution. She sighed and ran a hand through her wild curls, trying to think of the most tactful way to say this.
"Severus," she began, "accepts that you and Lily are together. He's not happy with it, but he accepts it. But the breakup of their friendship still hurts, you know, and seeing her with you— well, let's face it, James. That's just pouring some very thick salt solution into the wound. You and Sirius go out of your way to make his life miserable, and now that you've won Lily's hand, I think it's fair to ask that you stop trying to jinx him every chance you get."
"I still don't get what you see in that git," James said, cracking a smile, "but I suppose that is a fair request, especially if it'll make things easier on you."
"Thank you, James," Hermione said, genuinely gratified.
"But I can't promise I won't hex him if he does first," James bargained.
"I'll pass on the message," Hermione promised. "And Sirius?"
"I'll make sure he behaves, too." James ruffled his hair once more, and then admitted, "not that he really needs me to, now. I think he's learned his lesson."
"He has?" Hermione asked, surprised.
"Well, he hasn't been hexing Snape, has he?" James pointed out. Hermione had to concede this was true; she had witnessed nothing, and there had been no complaints from Severus. "I promised Lily I'd stop hexing people for fun, and… well…"
He trailed off, but Hermione understood implicitly what he was saying. James and Sirius were no longer successfully egging each other on to have a go at Severus. Without that kind of motivation, and the disaster from the end of last year, there really was not much reason to continue picking on Severus Snape at all.
The first week of school came and went, and Hermione had settled into a comfortable routine, which was more than could be said for her fellow classmates, who were still struggling heavily with their new coursework. Many of them went to the Head Girl to get a copy of her old notes when their teachers' lessons had flown right over their heads, and Lily was forced to divide her time between walking around the Quidditch Pitch with James and supplying the younger students with notes and tutorial help.
For once in her life, Hermione was not inclined to take up the slack. She had her own heavy workload to contend with, along with Severus, who was quite enough to deal with on her own without adding moaning classmates who did not bother to go to their teachers for help into the mix. Eventually, Hermione thought, they were going to learn to actually make use of the teachers' office hours and stop relying on Lily Evans as a safety net.
True to James's word, he and Sirius stopped hexing Severus in the corridors on the way to class. Not that they had been hexing him much at all to begin with, just a few retaliatory scuffles in the first week between themselves and a few Slytherins Severus happened to keep company with. But now they actively avoided getting into direct conflict with them. Severus continued to walk with a jumpy twitch in his leg, as though expecting an attack, but James and Sirius simply began to ignore him. Hermione had explained her little agreement with James to her Slytherin companion, but it didn't erase the suspicion and paranoia from his demeanor. Hermione felt as through she were trying to re-train two fighting dogs: Sirius and Severus both looked as though they were itching for a fight, one because he enjoyed hexing, the other because he was convinced that a hex was already set to come his way. It was a tense situation for Hermione to be in, and she was just waiting for one of them to snap. The best that could be said was that it seemed that, as far as hexing went, James had retired from the ring.
Hermione and Severus continued to retreat in the library directly after dinner to get their work done. Sometimes she was done before curfew, and Hermione would pull out Severus's copy of Advanced Potion-Making for a bit of light reading. She was horrified at the degraded state of the book, but found his annotations and comments written in the margins interesting and helpful nonetheless. It took quite a bit of work to interpret his tiny, spiky scrawl, but the results were worth it. At this point, Severus no longer cared if she went through his books; as far as he was concerned, she was welcome to it, so long as she didn't disseminate her gleanings to her Gryffindor friends.
Hermione had no intention of doing so, and thus, spent some of her evenings perusing his book. She found the title at the front denoting the owner as 'The Half-Blood Prince', and she chewed on the question for quite awhile before asking him.
"I'm a half-blood," Severus had replied shortly, not looking up from the essay he was working on. "My mother was a pureblood witch whose maiden surname was 'Prince'. That makes me a half-blooded Prince."
"Your father was a Muggle?" Hermione asked, surprised.
"Not a very pleasant one." Severus turned the parchment over and continued writing on the back. His fingers were smudged black with ink, and the base of his quill was completely soaked. He used the opportunity to turn the question around on her. "What about your parents?"
"Both Muggles, as you very well know," Hermione said, chewing on the tip of her quill. "They were good parents. Sometimes, they didn't really seem to understand my passion for the magical world—it was all very foreign to them, you understand—but they were very supportive of me."
A half-smirk curled at the corner of Severus's lips, but he held his silence.
The weeks crawled by. Hermione excelled in all of her classes, though they became increasingly difficult. She even had to ask her teachers to repeat themselves more than once for the meaning of their words to start making sense. Nevertheless, she powered through, and became very popular in Gryffindor when it was clear that the daily amount of points earned were climbing at a quicker rate than the ones from Slytherin house.
She was invited to another Slug Club supper, which she declined due to her heavy workload. The first Quidditch match of the season was fast approaching, however, and it was all James and Sirius would ever talk about. When too much broomstick jargon entered the conversation, Hermione would retreat to talking to Remus about classes. After dinner, she always made a beeline for the library. When October 31st rolled around, it was no different; Hermione ate and left in a hurry, giving herself no time to spare to truly savor the good food.
James and Sirius claimed she was suffering from a bad case of "Overwork-itis," and joked that it was probably terminal, and that if that turned out to be the case, could they have all her stuff?
Hermione whacked them both over the head with her planner, which she had out for reference at that moment, and informed them that if their diagnosis was correct, she would come back to haunt them for all eternity.
"I don't think you'd want that," she said, smiling mischievously at James, who was rubbing the back of his head. "You'd never get shagged again in your life."
"Oi!" Sirius called, as she turned away to leave. "That was way below the belt! Literally!"
But when the Saturday Quidditch match arrived, Hermione poured out with all the other faculty and students, decked out in house colors in support of her team. The year had begun with a match between Gryffindor and Slytherin, as usual, and the game was as dirty as any other Slytherin-Gryffindor match Hermione had ever seen. Sirius was a beater for Gryffindor, and he had a tendency to stick by James for the sole purpose of hitting a Bludger away from the Gryffindor seeker. In the air or on the ground, it was clear just how close the two Marauders were. Like brothers, in fact, and it was a wonder to Hermione how anyone could have ever believed Sirius capable of betraying his friend; it would be comparable to Fred selling George out. Inconceivable was not sufficient to cover it. It was simply beyond the realm of all possibility.
She had looked over at Peter Pettigrew, who was sitting between Mary and Remus, clapping when Gryffindor scored, and felt momentarily ill.
The match concluded with a celebration in the Gryffindor Common Room. Someone had brought an old record player and charmed it so that it played popular disco music. Hermione was certain the room was loud enough that all of Hogwarts castle could hear them partying. Someone had spelled all the furniture away, probably somewhere upstairs, and Sirius had commandeered the center of the room with Marlene McKinnon, who was one of Gryffindor's chasers, and they were square dancing. All around them, people were laughing and cheering.
Hermione shook her head, unable to resist smiling. Gryffindor had never celebrated in any way remotely like this in her time. They had absolutely nothing on the organized, celebratory chaos taking place in this room.
She watched James take Lily's hand and lead her onto the floor with a happy grin on his face; a moment later, they were dancing and twirling with wild, juvenile steps. The cheering in the room grew louder at this by several octaves, and Hermione actually had to place her hands over her ears for fear that her eardrums would burst and bleed.
A few moments later, the volume died down to barely acceptable levels, and everyone had started clapping and cheering together as the rest of the Gryffindor Quidditch team hauled themselves and a dance partner in the center of the room. Hermione began clapping along with them in earnest, grinning broadly now as she watched them all dance, drunk with glory, adrenaline, and the loud, energetic beat of the music.
Tango music began to play, and Hermione covered her face with her hands as the entire Gryffindor team, complete with their dance partners, began to massacre the dance moves.
She wormed her way through the crowd over to where food and drinks had been imported from the kitchen, and got herself a butterbeer. She took a sip, and turned around in time to see James Potter grasp Lily Evans and lift her up, twirling her and causing her dark red hair to fly around them like a halo. She was laughing and smiling, eyes sparkling brightly, and when James set her down, she kissed him.
There was another roaring cheer as the music changed back to disco, with everyone jumping and clapping, screaming and wolf-whistling as the victorious lions had their victory celebration. Hermione found it almost unbelievable how revered Quidditch players were in this time; in Gryffindor, they were being treated like heroes and celebrities. They hadn't even won the Quidditch Cup, and they had everything. Nothing, absolutely nothing in Hermione's time could even remotely compare to this. Not even the celebration in Hermione's third year, which had been followed by Sirius sneaking into Gryffindor Tower to look for Scabbers, had reached anything of this magnitude. Neither had any of the celebrations during the Tri-Wizard tournament. This was simply an entirely different level of partying.
Professor McGonagall showed up around midnight to send them all off to bed. This required the daunting task of silencing the music, then silencing the crowd, and then struggling to be heard over the noise of people still clapping and stomping, untouched by the Silencing Spell, which required a third spell to be cast. Then it required ordering them all off to bed which, once the charms were removed, resulted in a series of loud groans, protests, and the music being turned back on.
It was not an easy task for the Gryffindor Head-of-House, but she managed it in the end. The room was cleaned up, people were sent up to bed, and the remaining food and drinks were fetched by the house elves.
Hermione saw several couples kissing each other good-night before they parted, James and Lily included.