A Matter of Decorum

by Kathryn A

Recipient: harrietvane
Rating: PG
Warnings: none
Summary: Hermione casts a hair charm. Lucius Malfoy makes a bet with Snape. But is Severus playing the role of Professor Higgins or of Mephistopheles? SS/HG, Post-DH, EWE.
Original Prompt: Cultural education for Muggleborns is severely lacking at Hogwarts and, given the secrecy and insularity of the magical world, not everything is written in a book. Ignorance may be bliss, but Hermione's social faux pas leads to unintended (and, if inclined, entertaining) consequences.
Words: 19128

Written for the 2010 SSHG exchange.

Thanks to Mistral and JB for brainstorming; to pinkdormouse, kaffyr, cheyinka, sallymn, feliciakw, jinxed_wood and watervole for alpha-reading and encouragement. Thanks to watervole for a spot of Britpicking. Thanks to poulpette and RaeWhit for certain translations. Thanks to kittylefish for beta-reading. Any remaining mistakes are mine - mine, I tell you! Bwa-ha-ha! Ahem.

Chapter 1: In Which Hermione Commits A Faux Pas

Hermione stared nervously into the mirror. The spells in 1001 Household Charms had been challenging to figure out. She'd found the volume in a box of old books at the Hogsmeade Fair, a charity event for the benefit of war orphans. Now that Voldemort was dead, they called it a war, though compared to Muggle wars it was nothing much. No, not true, really. Because it had been a civil war, and they were the worst kind. Stop thinking about it. Think about the spell.

The incantations in the book were straightforward, but the wand movements had been described, often in terms of other spells, rather than shown with a diagram. If she got this one wrong, she'd be a laughingstock. She sighed. No time like the present.

"Capilli conlineo!" she said, making a long, swooping gesture with her wand. Her bushy, frizzy hair straightened out.

It looked awful. Limp, flat, lifeless.

"Finite Incantatem!"

Nothing happened. Then she remembered that this charm was supposed to be effective for a full day before it wore off. She sighed. Well, at least it worked. Sort of.

Perhaps something could be salvaged. She remembered another charm from the book. It depended heavily on visualisation, so she shut her eyes to help her concentrate. "Capilli plexum!" She opened her eyes and gave a sigh of relief. Her hair was pulled back into an elaborate French plait, hiding its deficiencies perfectly. She grinned. Not bad. Not bad at all.


It was strange to eat breakfast in the Great Hall; sometimes she felt as if the chatter of students and the clatter of cutlery would fade away like a dream, and she would wake up to the tent and the cold and the dreadful whispering of Horcruxes. Other times, with Harry sitting on one side of her and Ron on the other, it felt as if the search for the Horcruxes had been the nightmare and she had never left Hogwarts at all. Then she would notice, all over again, Neville's unnaturally short hair, Dean's limp, or the scar on Professor Snape's neck, and shiver with the reminder that none of it had been a dream. The Headmistress had declared that the previous year had been so disrupted, even for those who had been able to attend Hogwarts, that the whole year would have to be repeated, even if it meant the first year was twice the size. There would be some, like Colin Creevey, who would never return at all. Snape had nearly been among them, but trust a Potions master to have prepared an antidote for Nagini's venom beforehand. As it was, he had been deathly ill for a few weeks, though he seemed recovered now. Recovered enough to glare at all and sundry as he was doing to Hermione now.

She glanced away and took a sip of her pumpkin juice.

"What have you done to your hair?" Harry asked through a mouthful of toast.

"A charm," she answered. "I found it -"

"- in a book," Ron and Harry chorused.

Harry ran a hand over his hair, which was, as always, sticking out in every direction. "Have you got a charm to make my hair stay flat?"

Hermione grinned and pointed her wand at his head. "Capilli conlineo!"

Harry's hair flattened as if it had been ironed that way. Two gasps emerged from either side of Harry and Hermione.

"I was right," Ron snapped. "You and Harry do have a thing, don't you?"

Hermione whipped her head around. "What? What are you talking about, Ron?"

"You did a hair charm on Harry in public!" Ron said. "How much more obvious do you have to be?" His face screwed up with hurt. "Why? You could have let me down gently, but no, you had to tell the whole world what you think of me."

"What I think of you?" Hermione said. Then something wet and greasy plopped on her head, and she realized that Ginny was standing behind her, wand pointed.

"That's for trying to steal my boyfriend," Ginny hissed.

"But I'm not trying to-" Hermione began.

"You can't have him," Ginny continued. "He's mine."

"Of course he's yours," Hermione said. "Just because I love him like a brother-"

"You think of Harry like a brother?" Ginny said.

"Of course I do," Hermione said. "It's not like I have a brother of my own."

"Only child," Ron muttered. "How could I have forgotten? Sorry, Hermione. I was being stupid."

Ginny had the grace to blush as she vanished the glop on Hermione's head. "Me too," she said. "Sorry. Friends?"

Hermione smiled wanly, not wanting to antagonize the unpredictable Weasleys any further. "Friends, of course." She wondered if it was just the Weasleys, or whether the whole Wizarding world was insane and she just hadn't noticed until now.


As ever, when faced with a puzzle, Hermione hit the books. First, she reread the section on hair charms in 1001 Household Charms; then, she read the whole book again from cover to cover, but it contained no clues. Over the course of the next week, she spent every free moment in the library, gathering her research on a desk in her favourite secluded corner. She scoured the shelves for references to hair charms. She learned a lot of charms, but found no hint as to why Ron and Ginny would have been upset by her casting one on Harry.

So she expanded her search to books on Wizarding etiquette. There weren't any useful indexes saying "Why your boyfriend didn't like your casting a hair charm on your best friend", so she had to skim over a wide range of topics: the three forms of address for members of the Wizengamot; how to address those with a Mastery in their field; whether or not one should bow to the Minister of Magic (followed by an inconclusive debate about the difference in ranking between purebloods and Muggle aristocrats); that one should bow, rather than curtsey, to one of higher rank if one meets them in the street; the forms of precedence at weddings, and how they differed depending on whether the bride or groom was, or was not, a pureblood; twenty different form-letters for invitations, including wedding invitations; five different charms for protecting one's correspondence, which then turned into a treatise comparing the speed, intelligence and reliability of various different species of post-owl. But she didn't find an answer to her question.

Of course, she didn't want her homework to suffer from neglect, either, so she stayed up even later to work on it. Friday night, the late nights caught up with her, and she fell asleep in the library.

Which is where Professor Snape caught her.

Chapter 2: In Which Lucius And Severus Make A Bet

Meanwhile, at Malfoy Manor...

Friday night found Severus Snape sipping some excellent port at Malfoy Manor. Lucius had managed, with his usual slippery ease, to avoid Azkaban again, partly due to Narcissa's actions at the Battle of Hogwarts, as they were now calling it. A judicious application of bribes, flattery, grovelling and blackmail had done the rest.

"I can't believe you turned down the Headmastership," Lucius said. "Due to ill health? You've never looked better."

"I was ill; I nearly died," Snape pointed out. "It was a more politic refusal than telling them that I'd rather shovel Thestral dung than be Headmaster again; I did want to avoid being fired, after all."

"You can hardly compare bowing to the whims of a madman with what you would have if you accepted it now," Lucius said. "The Ministry are calling you a war hero; you'd have them eating out of your hands."

"How unsanitary." It was no surprise that Lucius couldn't understand why he didn't want the job; Lucius lived and breathed politics. Snape considered politicians another breed of dunderhead, one to which he could not assign detentions.

"But the amount of influence you would have as Headmaster, influence on the next generation..." Lucius said.

"I prefer to apply my influence directly," Snape said.

"Don't tell me you actually like teaching."

Of course I won't tell you that, Lucius. I can hardly believe it myself. When he had first begun teaching, it had been out of necessity. Over the years, as servant of two masters, with so many additional tasks and secrets, it had been hard enough to merely prevent the dunderheads from killing themselves. But now that both his masters were gone, exploding cauldrons were much less stressful because he had nothing else to worry about. No insane psychopaths ready to kill him at a whim, no need to edge his every word with ambiguity, no ungrateful heroes to train. That didn't prevent most of his students from being dolts, but at least in the higher years, he didn't have to put up with dolts any more.

"The exceptional students make it almost worthwhile," Snape said. To watch the brightest ones catch fire, to come to understand his passion for potions... Lucius had no idea what that was like, and he never would. "And if all else fails, there is enough foolishness in those hormonal idiots to keep one entertained for a lifetime."

Lucius smiled. "What hormonal foolishness entertained you recently?"

Snape's lips quirked. "Would you believe that the golden trio, the heroes of the Wizarding world, had a tiff over a hair charm?" Snape described the incident. "The most amusing thing was that neither Miss Granger nor Potter had any idea what she had done."

Lucius laughed. "She declared before the whole world that Potter was her lover, and she didn't know?"

Snape smirked. "What renders it more piquant is that I am certain that Potter isn't her paramour. That honour undoubtedly belongs to the Weasley brat."

Lucius raised his eyebrows. "How could she- ah. Mu-Muggle-born."

Snape was certain that Lucius had been about to say "Mudblood". It wasn't necessarily a sign that Lucius had changed his attitude about purity; more likely that he was trying to break the habit because it was unwise to use that word in the current political climate. Snape nodded. "Indeed. She may be bright, but she is ignorant."

A gleam appeared in Lucius's eyes and a sly smile graced his lips. "If you like teaching so much, prove it: teach her pure-blood manners. I wager you can't do it."

"The child is studying for her N.E.W.T.s," Snape said. "She would hardly wish to spend her precious time learning manners."

"I could make it worth your while," Lucius said.

"I don't want your money, Lucius," Snape said with distaste.

"I was thinking of something less... material," Lucius said.

Snape raised one eyebrow.

"A wager, as I said," Lucius responded. "If you win, I'll persuade the board of governors to stop offering you the Headmastership. If I win... you have to take the job."

"Why would you want me to- ah, you put them up to it, didn't you?" Snape said.

"Alas, no," Lucius said. "It was Brewster and Greengrass. But how could a Slytherin say no to a Slytherin Headmaster?"

"And if it so happens that you are a friend of the Headmaster..."

"Why, the thought never crossed my mind," Lucius said with a smirk.

Snape steepled his hands in front of his face. This challenge might actually be worth it. Lucius had taught Snape everything he knew about pure-blood manners; Snape certainly had the knowledge that would be needed; not only that, but as a half-blood, he knew where a Muggle-born's gaps of ignorance would be. Miss Granger was bright enough to learn, if only she had the motivation to cooperate. But that could be a big "if". What he had said earlier about N.E.W.T.s was perfectly true.

"It would be a pointless wager if Miss Granger did not agree to be taught."

"Surely that just adds to the challenge?" Lucius said.

True, he had a lot of practice in persuading recalcitrant pupils. He wasn't the head of Slytherin for nothing. But still... "Adding to the challenge would require adding to the stakes," Snape said. "Support for refusing the Headmastership, and a future favour."

"Ah, Severus, I would not offer carte blanche, not even to you."

"A future favour regarding the Board of Governors," Snape said. "Is that sufficiently limited for you?"

Lucius inclined his head. "Very well. So you will take the wager?"

"Perhaps. Depending on the terms. What would be sufficient to demonstrate my success or failure?"

"The Ministry Ball," Lucius said. "The one they're throwing in May to celebrate the anniversary of the Dark Lord's defeat. As war heroes, I'm sure both of you will be invited. If she demonstrates all the proper forms, flawlessly, in public, then you will be deemed to have won. If she makes a mistake, you have lost."

"But who would be the arbiter of that?"

"Narcissa," Lucius suggested.

"Conflict of interest," Snape pointed out.

"And Augusta Longbottom," Lucius added.

"Interesting choice," Snape said. He doubted that Augusta Longbottom would ever want him to be Headmaster again, not after what had happened to her grandson. "Done."

They shook hands, a tingle of magic binding their agreement.


It was nearly midnight when Snape returned to Hogwarts. Rather than going straight to bed, he decided to do a quick patrol, in case any of the hormonal idiots had the effrontery to behave as if Friday night had no curfew. As he passed the library, he thought he heard a noise. Quietly slipping inside the doors, he began searching for the cause. Creeping through the stacks like a shadow, he looked and listened, hardly breathing. There. A glimmer of light, flickering.

In a secluded corner, a long-haired figure slumped over a desk, a candle guttering near her hand. He glided up to the miscreant, sneering in anticipation of the fright he would give her, whoever she was. Though why would a student have fallen asleep in the library? Surely Madam Pince would have kicked them all out before curfew? He pulled up short when he saw the student's face. Ah. The Gryffindor know-it-all herself. That explained it; Madam Pince tended to favour the girl who treated books with almost as much reverence as the librarian herself did.

He studied the sleeping girl. Her hair loose around her face, one cheek rested upon an open book. She had changed in the year she had been away; strain had melted the puppy-fat away from her figure, the child's flatness replaced with womanly curves. But in his experience, all curves did to girls was make them twice as silly.

Snape glanced at the titles of the books scattered over the desk. The Laws of Etiquette by A Gentleman; Social Life, or, The Manners and Customs of Polite Society by Magda Courtly; The Complete Wizard by Walter Germaine and other books of similar ilk. So. It seemed that the incident had driven home her ignorance. How fortunate for him, and how very typical of the chit that, instead of actually asking anyone, she sought the answer in books. Didn't she know yet that books didn't hold all the answers, that they were only as trustworthy as the people who wrote them? Obviously not. After seven years of regurgitating textbooks, despite all his insults and points-deductions, he still hadn't managed to teach her to think. He doubted that any of the other staff had even tried. They were too enamoured of her ability to be a walking textbook. Perhaps that was enough for other disciplines, but in advanced potion-making, it was liable to get you killed.

He stepped beside her and purred in her ear, "Miss Granger." She started awake. He clamped a hand on her wrist before she could go for her wand. The war had honed her reflexes, but he still had the advantage. "What are you doing out after curfew?"

"I-I was studying, sir," Miss Granger said. "I must have fallen asleep."

He raised one eyebrow. "I was not aware that etiquette was on the N.E.W.T.s curriculum."

She blushed and opened her mouth, but he spoke before she could answer.

"Ten points from Gryffindor and a detention. Saturday night, eight o'clock, my office. Which, technically speaking, is today since it is after midnight."


"Would you prefer twenty points?" he interrupted.

She drew a breath, then bit her lip, as if trying to contain an outburst. Her face went carefully blank, but her eyes sparked with an emotion he couldn't identify. It wasn't fear, and it wasn't anger, either. She took a deep breath. "I'm sure you will do just as you like, sir," she said. "It doesn't really matter."

"Don't tell me that you don't care whether Gryffindor wins the House Cup or not?"

She shrugged. "After everything with Voldemort, it seems such a petty thing to worry about," she said.

Perhaps the chit had grown up, after all.

"Get back to your tower," he said and left in a swirl of black robes.


Hermione smiled to herself during breakfast. She had a detention with Professor Snape, and she didn't care. Because she wasn't intimidated by him any more. When he'd threatened to deduct extra points last night, it had struck her as so silly that it had taken all her self-control not to burst out laughing. Here was someone who had spied against Voldemort for twenty years, who had nearly died to insure Voldemort's defeat, and he was sneering and deducting House points as if nothing had happened, as if House points could be measured against blood and death and fear and pain and actually mean anything. She hadn't been laughing at him so much as at herself for having fallen into those old habits so easily. He deserved respect for so many reasons, including his authority over her as a student, but she realized that, in coming back to Hogwarts, she had chosen to put herself under his authority. It wasn't a natural law; it was a fiction that she had entered into willingly, for the sake of her N.E.W.T.s. But outside these walls, they were both adults, both equals, both heroes in their own different ways. And she wasn't afraid of him any more.

Chapter 3: In Which Hermione Learns Many Things

In which there is a detention, Snape is extremely Slytherin, and Hermione is required to explain her reasoning.

At precisely three minutes before eight o'clock, Hermione knocked on the door of Professor Snape's office.

"Enter," came the voice from within.

She pushed the door open.

"Sit," Professor Snape said, pointing to a chair in front of his desk.

She sat.

He stared at her as if she were a flobberworm that he was deciding whether to slice or pulverize. She looked back at him, holding the memory of the previous night before her like a talisman. You're not afraid of him. Perhaps it wasn't as easy to remember that as she'd thought.

He slapped a book down in front of her. The Complete Wizard, one of the books she'd been browsing through yesterday.

"What," Snape said, "did you expect to learn from that?" He sneered. "Planning on doing a little cross-dressing, are you?"

"No!" How could he think that of her? Oh. He was just baiting her again.

"The problem with books on manners, Miss Granger," he said, "is that they only deal with topics it is assumed everyone does not already know. To my knowledge, no-one has yet written a book about pure-blood manners for the Muggle-born."

Her face heated. He knew why she had been researching Wizarding etiquette. Of course he knew. The whole incident had occurred in the Great Hall; why would he not have noticed? He was a Slytherin, always looking for other people's weaknesses. She fought the impulse to look at the floor. "Why not?"

His eyes narrowed. "Think, Miss Granger. Or have you never had a thought in your head that didn't pass through a book first?"

She tried to ignore the insult, and pondered the question. "Because purebloods don't see the need, and Muggle-borns don't have the knowledge. But what about half-bloods?" The answer occurred to her as soon as the words were out of her mouth. "Half-bloods probably don't see the need either."

"Well, well, an actual thought," Snape said. "Will wonders never cease?"

Hermione bit her lip. It didn't matter if they were theoretically equals; he was still a sarcastic bastard.

"I could tell you why Mr. Weasley and Miss Weasley were so upset about your hair charm, but doubtless you would continue to make a fool of yourself in the future. If you have a future with Mr. Weasley at all, that is. The Weasleys are no Malfoys, but they are still purebloods, still apt to make certain... assumptions."

She flushed. Hateful, hateful man. Why did he have to bait her so? "I know, sir. That was why..." She looked away. She loved Ron, she did, but they argued enough about things they both understood. Toss in incidents like the hair charm, and it would be impossible. She had to learn, to know how to avoid such things. Fine, if there were no books on the subject, she would have to find someone to teach her. Professor Snape was a half-blood; he would probably know the culture, but the idea of his teaching her pure-blood manners was absolutely ludicrous. She started going through a mental list of half-bloods she knew. The problem was she hadn't really kept track of who was and who wasn't. That would have been reverse prejudice and just as bad as the pure-blood attitude towards Muggle-borns.

"Miss Granger," Snape said, "pay attention!"

She snapped her eyes back to his face.

"What were you daydreaming about, Miss Granger?"

"I was trying to think of a half-blood who could teach me about pure-blood ways, sir."

He raised one eyebrow. "You don't think I am capable?"

"With all due respect, sir," she returned, "'good manners' and 'Professor Snape' are hardly things one would mention in the same breath." And why would you want to teach them to me in the first place?

His eyes glittered. "Just because I am rude does not mean I do not know how to be polite. One must know the rules in order to know how best to break them."

"Or one could simply have no desire to learn the rules," Hermione said. "Sir."

"Miss Granger, I will ignore your impudence this once," Snape said. "Do you imagine that a spy spends all his time lurking in dark corners casting eavesdropping spells? A spy must interact; he must observe what is said, and what is unsaid, and know what it means. And, just to point out the obvious, the Death Eaters were mostly purebloods."

All right, he had a point. "Are you offering to teach me, sir?"

He sneered. "Why should I waste my valuable time compensating for your social inadequacies?"

She lifted her chin. "Why point out that you would be capable of teaching me, then?"

Snape sighed. "I was forgetting that Gryffindors are about as subtle as Bludgers."

Oh. He was offering to teach her. But only if she made it worth his while. "I am not used to negotiating with Slytherins, sir. Is there something I could do to compensate you for your time? Prepare potions ingredients? Scrub cauldrons?"

"That is what detentions are for," Snape said.

"Prepare potions?"

"I like preparing potions," Snape said.

She cast her eyes around his office, looking for inspiration. What did Professor Snape hate doing? The bottle of red ink on his desk caught her eye. "Mark essays?"

"You would be too tender-hearted."

She shook her head. "No, sir. I would be fair."

"Ah, yes, the Gryffindor sense of fair play." He steepled his fingers in front of his face, measuring her with his gaze. Then he inclined his head at her. "Very well, I will instruct you."

"Thank you, sir."

He smirked. "I haven't given you my terms yet."


"For every hour of instruction, you will spend an hour marking first- and second-year essays. Lessons will be once a week. Your final examination on the subject," his mouth gave a little curl, "will be at the Ministry Ball in May."

"Final examination, sir?"

"Purebloods will attend the ball, Miss Granger. Persons such as the Malfoys. If you pass muster with them, I shall deem you to have paid sufficient attention to my lessons."

She didn't want to impress the Malfoys; they weren't worth the dirt under her feet. She just wanted to learn how to get on with Ron.

"Are you afraid, little Gryffindor?" Snape purred. "Do you want to confirm their prejudices that Mudbloods are all uncouth barbarians?"

He was manipulating her; she knew he was manipulating her. But still, he had a point. She would so love to beat them at their own game, to throw their haughtiness in their faces.

"I'm not afraid, sir," she said. "I'll do it."

"Very well, Miss Granger, we shall begin next Friday. In the meantime, you have a detention to serve." He stood up, turning towards the door to the Potions classroom.

"I have a question, sir."

He turned back to her, raising one eyebrow.

"Why did Ron and Ginny get so upset when I cast a hair charm on Harry?"

"Hair charms, Miss Granger, especially when cast upon members of the opposite sex, are reserved only for close kin, or those with whom one has been - or desires to be - on intimate terms."

Hermione's eyes widened. "Oh." She frowned. "But why? I mean, why hair charms?"

"Think about it, Miss Granger. And I mean think. Reason, not research. I expect your answer next Friday."

She spent the next hour scrubbing cauldrons and thinking.


Professor Snape stacked up the pile of essays he intended Miss Granger to mark. It was probably better to give her lesson first and make her do the marking afterwards; after all, the marking was only an excuse, the lesson was the important thing, though she didn't know that.

She arrived precisely on time, with her book-bag over her shoulder. He gestured to the seat, and she sat.

"Well, Miss Granger, do you have an answer for me?"

"Yes, sir." And she pulled a scroll of parchment out of her bag.

He rolled his eyes, snatched the parchment from her hand, and ripped it in two. He ignored her protests. "I did not ask you for an essay, Miss Granger. I asked you to think. For these lessons, there will be no parchment, no quills. I expect you to remember without writing and respond without notes. If you must write notes, do so elsewhere, and burn them before the next week's lesson."

Her eyes widened, and her mouth opened to protest again.

"I know your study methods, Miss Granger. You are not going to cram for this. You are going to know this, as easily as you know how to read. Because that is the level of knowledge you will be up against." What had he been thinking? He had put his career in the hands of this chit of a girl, this naive Gryffindor fool, who thought that life was about playing fair. The fact that it would give him satisfaction to destroy her illusions didn't matter; it still had to be done. He loomed over her. "You will take this seriously, understand?"

She nodded. "Yes, sir."

He leaned back. "So, Miss Granger, what is your answer to the conundrum of the hair charm? If you can remember, that is?"

"Polyjuice potion," she replied, "uses hair as the final ingredient. Also, while many Dark potions use blood, some can use any part of the victim, such as hair or fingernails. Thus, you don't want someone doing things to your hair unless you trust them."

He inclined his head, not quite giving her a nod. "Correct, but incomplete. In addition, it is considered erotic to... fondle the hair of one's lover. Thus, by extension, hair charms are deemed to be... intimate."

She darted a quick glance at his hair, lank and greasy as it was. Wisely, she made no comment.

No, Miss Granger, he thought, I have no lover who would care to touch my locks. I never have. And I never will. Her hair was gathered at the nape of her neck with a simple ribbon. The style suited her better than either the unruly frazzle she usually sported or the close-confined plait she had worn on the day of the incident, which had made her hair look as if it were being tortured on a rack. You are not here to think about Miss Granger's hair. Change the subject. "At breakfast this morning, you cast Evanesco to clear a spill. This is considered low-class and uncouth. Why?"

She frowned in thought. Then she scowled. "House-elves."


"It is considered low-class because house-elves would be expected to clean up spills, but poor families, such as the Weasleys, don't have house-elves."

"Tell me, Miss Granger, where did you get the foolish and misguided notion that house-elves ought to be freed?"

"It's obvious! They're slaves! It's wrong to enslave anybody, whether they're human or not!"

"Would you consider horses to be enslaved?"

"That's different," she said. "They're dumb animals, not thinking beings."

"Yet they must do as they are told, they are punished if they do not, and all they get in return is food and board. Or are you foolish enough to declare that horses have neither will nor feelings? Or that they would be better off if left to fend for themselves?"

"Of course not! But it's not as if house-elves are incapable of looking after themselves, considering that they actually look after human beings!"

"That is where you are mistaken," he said. "How many house-elves have you known personally?"


"So these three examples led you to conclude that house-elves are enslaved. Explain your reasoning. For all three of them."

"Dobby wanted to be freed! The Malfoys were cruel and supported Voldemort, and Voldemort hated house-elves and would have done horrible things to them. Dobby wanted to save Harry."

"Dobby wanted to serve Mr. Potter," Snape corrected.

"But at least he was free to choose!"

"And yet he chose to come to Hogwarts and work, rather than take advantage of his freedom to roam the world."

"He was grateful."

"That also. Next example," Snape prompted.

"Winky," she said, her forehead creasing in a frown. "She was freed, but she hated it. She was devoted to Barty Crouch Jr. even though he was evil. I don't understand it."

"Not all house-elves have Gryffindor tendencies," Snape said. "Of course you would respect Dobby more for betraying his master because it was the right thing, than Winky, who remained faithful no matter what."


"What do you think of Narcissa Malfoy's actions during the Battle of Hogwarts?"

"She did the right thing."

"No, she didn't. She betrayed her principles in order to save her son."

He could see the wheels turning in her head.

"Are you saying that Winky loved her master? Like a mother loves her son?"

"You yourself used the word 'devoted', did you not?" Snape said. "Next example."

"Kreacher," she said. "He was really horrible, and nasty, and creepy. He talked to himself as if we weren't there. He hated Sirius and wanted to obey Mrs. Black's portrait. But he turned around completely when we helped him fulfil Regulus Black's last request. He's a lot happier now."

"So who do you think he considered his master to be?"

"Regulus Black," she said slowly. "Only he was dead, and Kreacher couldn't obey his last command. And he was locked up in that house for ten years, with nothing but a deranged portrait for company." She suppressed a shudder. "Being stuck with Mrs. Black would be enough to drive anyone mad."

"Not the presence of Mrs. Black alone, though she certainly did not help," Snape said. "How was Kreacher after his last order was fulfilled? What was his attitude?"

"He was... happy," she admitted.

"Even in the presence of Mrs. Black's portrait?"


"What conclusions do you draw from these examples?"

"That house-elves want to feel needed, that they need to look after somebody. Even Dobby, because even though he didn't want to obey Mr. Malfoy, he wanted to protect Harry."

"Do not judge non-humans by Muggle standards, Miss Granger," he said. "They have their own cultures, their own ways of seeing the world. Just because house-elves are the size of children does not mean that they should be patronized and told what is best for them, as if they don't know that better than you do."

"But they speak so childishly," she said.

He raised an eyebrow. "And what makes you assume that English is their first language? The grammatical errors of house-elves are far too consistent across the board to be the result of stupidity."

"I never thought of that."

"Most people don't," Snape said. "Then again, most people don't think at all." He gave her a gimlet stare. "I expect better of you."

The rest of the hour was spent on how to interact with house-elves: things to do and refrain from doing, how best to phrase orders and thanks and the matter of punishments. At each point, he challenged her to reason out the principles behind each custom. If he could get her to start questioning her assumptions in the area of manners, perhaps that would shake her out of her complacency in regard to other matters. It puzzled him. She wasn't stupid; when it came to the war, she had even been able to think creatively. Yet when it came to Potions, she was as unimaginative as Hagrid's half-brother Grawp.

"Your assignment for this week," Snape said, "is, firstly, to apologize to the Hogwarts house-elves for VOMIT, or whatever it was-"

"S.P.E.W." she said. "The Society for the Promotion of Elvish Welfare."

He glared at her for the interruption. She gazed back at him calmly.

"Yes, that featherbrained idiocy, whatever it was called. You must convince them that you will never, ever, do such a thing again," he said. "Secondly, I shall ask the Headmistress to assign a house-elf to you, and you must practise everything we have discussed tonight. This will be an ongoing assignment, until I see fit to terminate it. Understood?"

She nodded.

"Now," he said, gesturing at the pile on his desk, "I believe you have some essays to mark."

Chapter 4: In Which Hermione Converses With House-Elves

Hermione walked down to the kitchens on Saturday morning, straight after a quick breakfast. She was a firm believer in getting unpleasant tasks over with. She tickled the pear and let herself into the kitchens.

The scent of that morning's breakfast still lingered in the air. House-elves, wearing pillowcases and tea-towels neatly embroidered with the Hogwarts crest, rushed to and fro carrying dishes, wielded knives on chopping boards, tended ovens; the air hummed with activity.

A smiling, older house-elf skipped towards her. "I is Lolly, Miss." Then the elf halted, and the smile vanished. "What does Miss want?"

Oh yes, you fouled it up mightily, didn't you, Hermione? "I want you to forgive me," she said softly.

The elf's already large eyes grew larger, as if they would pop out of her head. "Miss?"

Hermione almost retreated back out the portrait-hole. You're a Gryffindor; you have to do this. She eyed the tables that mirrored the ones in the Great Hall. Should she stand on one of them to get their attention? No. She wasn't making a speech, she was making an apology. It wasn't as if she didn't tower above the house-elves already. She cleared her throat and began to speak loudly and clearly.

"Elves of Hogwarts, all of you, I have something I need to say. My name is Hermione Granger, and a few years ago, I did a stupid - a bad thing. I tried to trick Hogwarts' elves into taking clothes. I didn't understand, I thought you were enslaved, I thought... I thought wrong." She felt tears pricking in her eyes, and blinked them back. "It was arrogant, and presumptuous, and - and insulting. I'm sorry. I promise I will never offer clothes to an elf again, not unless they ask. I hope you can forgive me."

The room was completely still, wide-eyed elves staring up at her.

Lolly opened her mouth. "Miss is saying sorry... to us?"

"Yes," Hermione said.

"Miss is never offering clothes, ever?"

Hermione shook her head firmly. "Never."

The house-elves started murmuring, but Lolly still didn't smile. They don't believe me, Hermione thought. How can I say sorry in a way that they will understand? Then it came to her. Oh boy, this is going to hurt. Hermione turned around and banged her head against the stone wall. Hard. Oh, yes, it hurt all right. Again. Ow. She drew her head back to do it a third time when many small hands pulled her away from the wall and dragged her onto a bench by one of the tables. A babble of shocked voices surrounded her.

"Miss must not hurt herself!"

"No, Miss!"

"What is Miss doing?" Lolly's voice.

"Miss," Hermione said, through her pounding headache, "is punishing herself."

Gasps all around.

"Miss must not punish herself, no, no, no, no."

"Now you know how I feel when house-elves offer to iron their ears," Hermione said. "But I wanted you to understand that I meant it when I said I was sorry."

"Elves understand, yes, understand that Miss is sorry," Lolly said. "Now Miss must not hurt herself. Would Miss like tea?"

Hermione was immediately inundated with offers of food and drink, and could not escape until she had consumed two glasses of pumpkin juice, a hot buttered scone, and three jam tarts.


Hermione stumbled into the Gryffindor common room feeling bloated, but her heart was lighter.

"Hermione, where've you been?" Ron dragged her to the table where he and Harry were fighting a losing battle with books and parchment. "You weren't here last night either, and we need help with Transfiguration."

"I'm doing a project with Professor Snape," she said.

"A Potions project?" Harry asked.

"No, I'm learning about Wizarding culture." There, that sounded better than 'pureblood manners'.

"You must be barking," Ron said. "Snape is teaching you about Wizarding culture?"

"It's not like you're teaching me!" Hermione snapped back. "No, you just assume that I know things and let me make a fool of myself!"

"This is about the hair thing, isn't it? Look, I was a great idiot, okay?" Ron gave her a hug. "I should have known you wouldn't cheat on me."

Hermione sighed. "What about next time, Ron?" she said. "The next time I do something because I'm Muggle-born and you misinterpret it because you're not? That's why I'm learning this stuff. For us."

Ron looked gobsmacked. "You're putting up with the great git for me?"

Hermione smiled. "He's not so bad when he doesn't have a whole class to snarl at."

"Snape volunteered to teach you?" Harry asked. "I know he's a good person underneath the snarl, but he's still a Slytherin; they don't volunteer."

Hermione smiled wryly. "No, they don't. I have to mark essays in payment."

"He's letting you mark essays?" Harry said. "He must actually think you're not a dunderhead."

She hadn't thought of that. In a way, it was a sort of backhanded compliment. "Huh, I think you're right. How very Slytherin." His words from last night came back to her: I expect better of you. He challenged her. And he kept challenging her, unlike her other teachers.


After lunch, Hermione went up to her dorm room and settled on the bed with an empty notebook and pen. Lavender and Parvati were still at lunch. Hermione tapped the ball-point pen against her teeth. Snape had ordered her not to make notes, but he hadn't ordered her not to keep a journal, had he? So long as she didn't write notes in it.

She was about to cast a simple privacy charm on the book when she paused. Yes, it was better to do that than weigh in with a pile of heavy wards, but if anyone picked up a well-worn notebook and found that it appeared to be empty, that would probably make them suspicious. Better to write something in it first that wasn't hidden, something they would think boring. She copied a few pages of her Arithmancy homework to the start of the notebook. She liked Arithmancy; it was orderly, elegant. It made sense. You could use it for so many things: calculating stirring ratios for potions; harvesting and planting times for Herbology; you could even use it to calculate future probabilities of the actions of individuals. It was a heck of a lot more reliable than Divination. Idly, she drew up an equation in regard to herself and Snape and the lessons he was giving her. Four pages of calculations later, she let out a breath. Well. Professor Snape was hiding something from her. The equation had refused to balance out until she added an additional motivation variable for Professor Snape. Surprise, surprise.

Hermione gazed at the result, sighed, and cast the privacy charm on the remaining pages of the book. No matter his motives, she still needed to learn from him.

Hermione had just finished writing her first entry in the journal when she heard a "pop" outside her bed-curtains. She grabbed her wand and put a cautious eye to the crack. Then she pushed the curtains open. "Lolly!"

The house-elf gave a huge smile from ear to ear. "Miss Hermione is remembering Lolly's name!"

"What are you-" Hermione stopped herself. Be specific. "Why is Lolly in Miss Hermione's, Miss Lavender's and Miss Parvati's room?"

"Lolly is Miss Hermione's elf," Lolly said. "Headmistress is asking for elf to serve Miss Hermione for a short time. Lolly is asking if she can be that elf, and Headmistress said yes!"

"You asked to serve me?"

Lolly nodded her head vigorously. "Professor Master of Potions is saying that Miss Hermione is to be learning how to treat house-elves right. Lolly will teach Miss Hermione, yes."

Hermione smiled. "Thank you, Lolly."

"Oh no, Miss Hermione should not be thanking Lolly. Lolly hasn't done anything for Miss yet. Does Miss Hermione want anything?"

"A glass of cold water, please, Lolly."

Lolly's ears drooped. "Miss Hermione could get that for herself. Miss doesn't want Lolly to work."

"With a slice of lemon," Hermione added. "And ice."

"Yes, Miss Hermione!" The elf vanished.

Hermione put the notebook away, pulled out her Advanced Charms textbook and began reading.

Two minutes later Lolly reappeared bearing a tall glass with ice cubes tinkling inside; a slice of lemon floated among them. She handed the glass to Hermione and Hermione took a sip.

"Thank you, Lolly," she said with a smile. "That will be all for the moment."

Lolly nodded and vanished.

Hermione flopped back on her bed with a sigh. She had a house-elf. Lavender and Parvati would never let her live it down. Lavender had never liked her; she wouldn't forgo the opportunity to make snide remarks. It was made even worse by the way that Lavender and Parvati were so close, gossiping, casting hair and makeup charms on each other...

Hair charms. Hermione sat up. "Oh my God. Hair charms!" She scrambled off her bed and ran down to the common room. She looked around wildly and spotted Lavender and Parvati poring over a copy of The Quibbler.

"Lavender!" Hermione said, crossing the room swiftly.

Lavender and Parvati looked up. "What do you want, Hermione?" Lavender asked.

"In first year, I offended you, didn't I?" Hermione said. "When I wouldn't let you cast a hair charm on me. I thought you were making fun of my hair, when all the time you were trying to make friends."

Lavender gaped at her. "You thought I... How completely daft!"

Hermione blushed. She shrugged. "Muggle-born. I didn't know."

Hermione could see Lavender connecting the dots in her mind.

"Oh," Lavender said. "It took you seven years to figure that out?"

"I'm learning about Wizarding culture. Extra project."

"In your N.E.W.T. year?"

"Last opportunity," said Hermione. "Besides, I don't have to worry about keeping Harry and Ron alive anymore. Plus, not doing Defence gives me a bit more time." All the seventh-years who had participated in the Battle of Hogwarts had been offered an honourary D.A.D.A. N.E.W.T., and Hermione had accepted, not just for the extra time it would give her, but because it felt far too strange having Molly Weasley as the D.A.D.A. professor.

Hermione looked around. Nobody seemed to be looking at them. Better bite the bullet. Then she got inspired. "Actually, Lavender, I could use your help. The headmistress has assigned a house-elf to me, and I don't know what to do with it."

Lavender gaped. "You have a house-elf? That's not fair."

"I know," Hermione said.

Parvati smiled. "I'm sure we can think of things for it to do."

I bet you can, Hermione thought with sudden misgiving. Maybe it hadn't been such a good idea after all. She pasted a smile on her face. "Thanks." She took a step towards the dorms, then changed direction to the portrait entrance. "See you later." She left the room before they could reply.

Several random turns and staircases later, Hermione found herself on the third floor near the Astronomy tower. She opened the next closed door and found a room full of desks and with walls covered with star charts. A classroom on a Saturday should be private enough.


The house-elf appeared with a crack.

"Miss Hermione is wanting Lolly?"

"Miss Hermione is wanting Lolly to listen carefully."

Lolly closed her mouth and nodded, eyes wide.

Hermione suppressed a smile. "I want to give you work, but I'm not sure that I can give you enough work to keep busy. Can you help the other house-elves when you aren't busy?"

"Oh no, Miss Hermione! Lolly is a personal elf now! Is great honour. Lolly is not doing anything but what Miss Hermione orders!"

"But I don't want you to be bored."

"Lolly doesn't mind waiting, Miss Hermione. House-elves is good at waiting, waiting to be ready."

Hermione remembered Kreacher's years of waiting and shuddered. "I'm sure you're very good at it. But I'd like to be a good mistress to you and give you things to do. But I need help in doing that. So can you do two things for me?"

"Yes, Miss Hermione!"

"First, I'd like you to make a list of your skills, the things that you can do. That way I will have a better idea of what I can ask you to do."

"Lolly can be making a list, yes."

"The second thing I'd like you to do is this. You know Miss Lavender and Miss Parvati, who share a room with Miss Hermione?"

"Yes, Lolly is knowing them."

"When you aren't busy doing things for me, I'd like you to do things for them. But only if they are things that make you happy to do. And you are never to punish yourself for not doing what they ask. Because you're my elf, not theirs." Hopefully that should take care of any malicious impulses on the part of Parvati and Lavender.

The elf stood proudly. "Lolly is Miss Hermione's elf, nobody else's!"

Hermione smiled. "Lolly is a good elf. If you can get that list to me after dinner tonight, that would be good."

Lolly beamed and disappeared with another crack.


Hermione ran her finger down the list. She paused. "Embroidery?"

Lolly pointed to the Hogwarts crest on her pillowcase-tunic. "Lolly stitched this herself!"

Hermione bent over and looked at the crest. The stitches were even, the colours vivid. More than that, there was a vibrancy to the design that made her feel as if the snake, griffin, badger and raven were about to move, even though the crest had not been charmed into animation. "Very good."

Lolly beamed. "Miss Hermione called Lolly's work very good!"

Hermione stepped over to her wardrobe and opened the doors. "So what does Lolly think could be done to improve Miss Hermione's clothes?"


The next few months passed in the usual bustle of school-work, study, and fun with her friends when they dragged Hermione away from her books. She had expected to work her guts out in her N.E.W.T. year, but instead she had more time, not just because she'd dropped D.A.D.A., but because many of the minor chores of her daily routine were being taken care of by Lolly. While Hermione studied as diligently as ever, she found that it didn't engage her mind as much as it used to. Hermione started looking forward to Friday nights. Professor Snape challenged and stimulated her, always demanding that she think, always asking "Why?". It didn't matter whether the subject was Floo etiquette or family trees; somehow none of it was boring when he was teaching her. He was as sarcastic as ever, but she found she didn't mind. It was just him; he wouldn't be Severus Snape without the sarcasm.

She hadn't noticed when she had begun thinking that "being Severus Snape" was a good thing.

Chapter 5: In Which Hermione Is Further Enlightened

In which assumptions are challenged, eyes are opened, and emotions are hidden.

Snape eyed the slightly flawed potion with annoyance. Did the child have no imagination whatsoever? "Five points from Gryffindor, Miss Granger, for sticking slavishly to the textbook."

The girl's eyes widened, and she opened her mouth to protest.

"Silence!" His eyes narrowed. "Are you making assumptions again, Miss Granger?"

Her mouth shut with a snap, and she frowned thoughtfully. One could almost see the wheels turning inside her head. "Apparently so, sir."

"Two feet, Miss Granger, this Friday, on what those assumptions are and the reasons why they are erroneous. If you find that the library does not help, I suggest you ask your fellow students what everyone knows about Potions."

Miss Granger nodded. Message received and understood.


On Friday evening, Miss Granger arrived and handed him a scroll. Snape put it aside without even looking at it. "I will tell you what you have written, Miss Granger," Snape said. "You had assumed that the Advanced Potions textbook was correct in every respect like the other textbooks that you regurgitate so accurately. However, the Advanced Potions textbook has deliberate but relatively harmless flaws in it. The purpose is to prepare advanced Potions students for real grimoires, which have deliberate and dangerous flaws in them, in order to protect their contents from the ignorant." His lip curled. "Not only that, but you have undoubtedly provided an exhaustive set of references. One point to Gryffindor." He waved his wand and vanished the ink on the scroll.

"Why did you assign me the essay if you weren't even going to look at it?"

Snape smirked. "You tell me why."

The girl stared at the empty scroll, but he could tell she wasn't really looking at it. After a few minutes, she spoke. "First, as an exercise in thought; it doesn't matter if you read it because the point was in me doing it. And the exercise was to remind me to beware of assumptions in general, not just in Potions."

Snape nodded. "Assumptions can kill you. Question everything. Question people's motives especially."

"Even yours, sir?" There was a challenge in her eyes.

He met it with his own challenge. "Especially mine."

"So what is your additional motive for teaching me?"

"I see that the very moment you show some Slytherin awareness, you ruin it with Gryffindor bungling."

She shrugged. "It can't hurt to ask."

"Ah, but it can," Snape said. "Your questions tell your enemies not only what you desire to know but what you know already."

"You aren't my enemy, sir," she said calmly.

Would you think the same if you knew the truth, girl? "The purebloods you will be up against consider themselves your enemy. Do you think that they will play fair? Do you think this etiquette is about playing fair? House-elves are easy to satisfy; they have simple ambitions. Let me assure you, the purebloods will not play fair." He stared down at her. "Now tell me what your question revealed about you."

"That I already knew you had an additional motive for teaching me this that you weren't telling me."

"And what made you think, if I had such a motive, that I would tell it to you merely because you asked, if I had already gone to an effort to conceal it?"

"Now I know that you have gone to an effort to conceal it," she said. "Sir."

"You do not know, you merely surmise," he said. "Books and facts will not help you here; you must make do with guesses and conjecture, to live with uncertainty."

"I suspect that your guesses are more certain than most people's facts," she said. "But I don't think I would make a very good spy, myself."

"Such a defeatist already?" he purred. "We've barely started." He paced around her. "Your face, Miss Granger, is an open book. I concede that you have managed to remember what I have taught you so far, but all the forms and details will avail you nothing if you cannot succeed in concealing your emotions." He paused in front of her, leaning back against his desk. "Clear your mind."

Her eyes narrowed. "Are you expecting a Legilimens at the ball, sir?"

He didn't question why his heart warmed at this evidence of her quick thinking. "No, Miss Granger. But self-control and clarity of thought are the foundation of both Occlumency and the concealment of one's emotions. Clear your mind."

"How, sir? I can't very well stop thinking."

His lips twitched. "Indeed, I believe you are constitutionally incapable of not thinking."

She covered her mouth with a hand, but her eyes were dancing. Was she actually smiling? Something in his heart lightened. He almost smiled back, before he stopped himself. She is a student, nothing more. He stood up. "Close your eyes."

She closed them.

He strode to the back of her chair and said softly in her ear, "Breathe."

She shivered. If she was going to be in the dungeons, she should wear warmer clothing.

"Slowly," he said, "breathe in. Wait. Breathe out. Think of nothing but how the air feels as it moves through you. Breathe in. Wait. Breathe out. There is nothing but air." She was relaxed, breathing as he told her to. Now for the next stage. "Imagine," he said, "a lake. A deep, deep lake. The surface is calm, peaceful. Under the deep, deep lake, at the very bottom, where no-one can find it, is a chest. Inside the chest are all the things you wish to hide. Nobody can open the chest but you. Hide your treasures in the chest. Hide your secrets in the chest. Hide your feelings in the chest. Have you hidden them?"

"Yes," she whispered.

"Have you locked the chest?"


He stepped around to the front of the chair and studied her. Relaxed, almost boneless. But this was the easy part. "Open your eyes," he snapped.

She started and nearly fell off the chair.

"That," he said, "is how you clear your mind." He sneered. "The trick, of course, is to do so without falling asleep, without closing your eyes, and to do so quickly. For that, you will need to practise."


Hermione found it difficult to get to sleep that night. She lay staring at the roof of her four-poster bed, thinking about Severus Snape.

It's just a crush. Just a stupid schoolgirl crush like the one you had on Lockhart in Second Year. But, oh God, his voice. It makes me melt. How am I going to face him in Potions on Monday? She sighed. Don't be stupid; he showed you exactly how. Clear your mind. Conceal your feelings. You have the entire weekend to practise. So practise.

She closed her eyes, trying to imagine a lake. But she couldn't get his voice out of her mind. Breathe. She took a ragged breath. Breathe. His voice was like dark, black treacle. This isn't working. Think of something. She took a breath, but his voice still whispered in her mind. Fine. If you can't work against it, work with it. She pictured the dark, black treacle falling into the deep, deep lake. Breathe. Her breathing steadied, and she began to relax. It's just a voice. It cannot trouble you. Hide your feelings in the chest. Let it go. Breathe. Her breathing deepened. You will not tremble. You will not blush. He will not see. Breathe. The surface of the lake was still and calm. He will not see. The dark, black treacle was safely hid inside the chest. There was nothing but air and calm.

Hermione slept.


Over the weekend, she practised. Saturday morning she imagined the lake while pretending to read. Saturday afternoon she tested herself by sitting near the Slytherins during the Quidditch match (Ravenclaw versus Slytherin). Of course they insulted her and her friends. But she remained calm. She wasn't sure it was a real test, though, because she really didn't care what they thought. It would also be harder to do it when she had to concentrate on two things at once. She practised anyway, repeating the exercise as if it were a difficult transfiguration that she had to master. And in a way it was; a transfiguration of the mind.


Monday morning came, and with it, double Potions. The N.E.W.T.-level class was small enough that all Houses were combined into one class. Hermione, as usual, sat next to Harry.

Professor Snape entered with his black robes billowing.

"As the season of Yule is upon us, and undoubtedly the halls of Hogwarts will be filled with Christmas cheer..." He sneered. "I have decided to allow you to attempt a potion which some of you will find... useful." He gestured at the board with his wand and the words "Sober-Up Potion" appeared, followed by a list of ingredients and directions. He turned back to the class. "Stop!" he said. "Today you will not work with your usual partners, but with partners I assign. You are supposed to be advanced students. You should be able to brew without familiar crutches." He glared at Harry and Hermione. Hermione avoided his eyes.

Lake. Lake. Calm. She managed not to blush. This time.

Professor Snape pointed at her. "Miss Granger, you will partner with Mister Malfoy."

Hermione gathered up her things and moved to Draco's desk as Professor Snape made further assignments.

"Well, at least he hasn't saddled me with someone completely incompetent," Draco said.

Hermione struggled to control her irritation. Calm, calm. "Funny, that's exactly what I was thinking," Hermione said in a flat, even voice.

"I'm getting the ingredients," Draco said, managing to imply with his tone alone that he didn't trust her to do such a simple task.

And here I thought that dealing with Professor Snape would be the hardest part of this lesson, Hermione thought. At least I'm getting real practice at this. I wonder if Professor Snape did it on purpose. Duh. Of course he did.

Draco returned and laid the ingredients out in order of their addition.

"I'll do the lavender," Hermione said, picking up the flower heads and placing them on her chopping board. "After all, we wouldn't want to risk the virility of the Malfoy heres ex asse."

"I'm not planning on bathing in lavender oil, Granger," Draco said. "The recipe calls for an infusion of ten grains, not a hundred, or haven't you read that far in the instructions?"

Hermione let the insult roll past her, like a breeze through the branches of a willow tree; a willow with its roots drinking from a deep, deep lake. Maybe this isn't so hard after all.


Friday again, the last before the Christmas break.

"If you had a younger sister, Miss Granger, how would she be formally addressed?" Snape asked, pacing up and down his office.

"That would depend on what her first name was, and whether or not she was a witch," she answered.

Snape sneered at her deliberately. "Are you going to dither like an imbecile, or are you going to answer the question?" He expected her to flush, either with anger or embarrassment, but her face and eyes remained calm as she answered.

"If my hypothetical younger sister had a first name of Miranda, she would be addressed as Miss Miranda Granger if she were a witch and Miranda if she were not," she replied.

"If you were to be formally introduced to Draco Malfoy, what would you do?" Snape said. He tossed in another jab. "And 'gaping like a fish in surprise' is not the correct answer."

Again, Miss Granger's reply was uncharacteristically tranquil. She can't have mastered it already, Snape thought. And yet, for the entire lesson, though he gave her the sharp edge of his tongue, he could not get her to react.

"Did I pass the test, sir?" she asked.

She'd known what he was doing. "I am not the one you need to impress," he growled.

It wasn't until after she left that he realized the other thing that had bothered him. She hadn't smiled. Not once.


"Hey, Hermione, what's the matter?" Ron asked as the Hogwarts Express chuffed towards London. "Aren't you looking forward to Christmas? I'm so glad you could come to the Burrow."

"Of course nothing is the matter," Hermione said calmly.

"You aren't smiling," Ron said.

"Why should she be smiling when her parents are still missing?" Harry pointed out.

"They aren't missing, they just moved without a forwarding address," Hermione said. She knew she ought to be worried, but it was so much more peaceful to hide her worries in the lake. "I'm sure they're all right."

"Of course they're all right," Ron said bracingly. "Here, have a chocolate frog."

Chapter 6: In Which Everyone Celebrates Christmas In Their Diverse Ways

Christmas at the Burrow, Malfoy Manor, and Hogwarts. But mostly the Burrow.

The Burrow was loud and warm and cosy, filled with tantalizing smells, both savoury and sweet, which was amazing, considering that Molly had probably arrived home only a few hours ago. Unlike the students, Hogwarts staff were not required to use the Hogwarts Express; she'd probably travelled by Floo.

Molly pulled her aside as Ginny took Hermione's things up to their room. "Thanks for lending Lolly to me, she's been a great help."

Hermione's eyes widened. "I didn-" she broke off. "Let me have a few words with her, please?"

Molly gestured towards the kitchen.

Hermione entered and hissed, "Lolly."

The house-elf came out of the pantry, ears drooping. "Miss is not pleased?"

"I thought you weren't supposed to leave Hogwarts."

"Professor Weasley is a Hogwarts Professor," Lolly said. "So Lolly is still working for Hogwarts."

Hermione bit her lip, unsure whether she wanted to smile or frown. "I didn't expect you to follow me. I was surprised. And even though I appreciate it, I didn't ask you to help Professor Weasley."

Lolly's ears drooped further. "Lolly will iron her ears."

"No," Hermione interrupted. "Lolly will have a cold shower."

Lolly nodded vigorously. "Lolly will shower with ice-cold water made from snow!"

"But don't make yourself ill."

Lolly shook her head, equally vigorously. "No, Miss Hermione."

"Carry on helping Professor Weasley, but don't do all the cooking. She likes cooking."

"Yes, Miss Hermione."


Dinner that night was boisterous and filled with laughter as the Weasleys, Hermione and Harry crowded around the table. Bill and Fleur had arrived just before dinner, and Charlie breezed in after the first course, smelling of wild, cold air and dragon smoke.

Hermione began to relax. That night, before sleep, she didn't clear her mind.


The dinner table is crowded with people; friends, enemies, strangers. Molly Weasley sits at one end, Albus Dumbledore at the other. Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy sit opposite her, at ease in sumptuous robes of embroidered silk, while next to them are a couple in Muggle business clothing. Molly Weasley leans across the table to them.

"Wendel, Monica, I'd like you to meet Hermione."

Her parents look right through her.


She is invisible to them.

Lucius Malfoy sneers at her. "Tu n'as pas de place ici, et n'en auras jamais."

His French is perfect. Hers is not; she can only understand one word in three. "Pardon?"

"Pauvre fille, comment oses tu pretendre a atteindre notre niveau?" Lucius says.

Narcissa shrugs one elegant shoulder.

A voice purrs in her ear. "I'm not the one you need to impress." It is Severus Snape, seated next to her. His black dress robes are embroidered with a green so deep it is almost black, and his hair is tied back with a matching green ribbon. His visage is no less harsh, but it is beautiful to her, not least because his familiar face provides a solace to her fear.

His hand feels warm over her own. He pulls her hand to his lips, kissing her knuckles. She shivers, but not from cold.

His fathomless black eyes bore into her own. "Trust no-one," he whispers. "Especially not me."

"Why not?" she whispers back.

He kisses each finger of her hand. "Because."

"Of course you can't trust him," Ron says from her other side. "He's Snape."

Her shoulders are grabbed from behind, pulling her away from the table. It is Lucius Malfoy. "Tu n'es' meme pas digne de lecher la boue des semelles de mes chaussures," he hisses with disgust.

There is a bright flash as the ghost of Colin Creavey takes a photograph.

bk dream.jpg

Hermione's Dream by Becky K (aka tempula studios)


Hermione groaned as the sunlight stabbed into her eyes, then shivered as she remembered the dream. Her mind knew it was a dream, but her emotions did not. The indifference of her parents, the hostility of Lucius Malfoy, the feel of Snape's lips on her hand; they filled her eyes with tears, set her heart pounding in fear and something else that was not fear. "Just a dream, it was just a dream," she whispered to herself.

She sought the solace of her lake and buried her fears and uncertainties deep within. Feeling better, she decided she wouldn't let her mental defences down again. There wasn't anything she could do about her parents or about Snape, but there was at least one thing she could do about Lucius Malfoy. She wasn't surprised that he had been speaking French in the dream; the Malfoys did have at least one property in France. Hermione's parents had sent her to all sorts of enrichment classes when she was a child, including languages. But Hermione had hardly used her French in the last seven years.

After breakfast Hermione cornered Fleur and asked for her help. What better way to revive one's language skills than with a native speaker?


Narcissa Malfoy kissed Draco on the cheek. "Welcome home, dear."

"Thank you, Mother," Draco said. He handed his cloak to a waiting house-elf.

"Your father is in the study," Narcissa said. Of course his mother wouldn't come right out and say that his father wanted to speak with him; that would be far too gauche and unsubtle.

Draco was Slytherin enough to get the message. "Yes, Mother."

When Draco entered the study, Lucius invited him to sit and asked him the usual questions about school, a ritual that Draco had taken for granted until last year, when the Dark Lord had cast such a shadow over his family. He swore he would never take such things for granted again. His father was alive, his mother was alive, they still had the Manor, and though their fortunes were less than they had been... Well, did money matter so much, apart from as a way of keeping score? Of course status was important, but if there was nobody to smile at you and say, "Well done", then what was the point?

"I beat Granger in Potions this term," Draco said.

"But not in anything else, I'll warrant," Lucius said.

Draco shrugged. "Professor Snape is the only teacher who doesn't think that the sun shines out of her-"

"Language," Lucius rebuked mildly. "Have you noticed anything... unusual about her behaviour recently?"

Draco shrugged. "I heard that Professor Snape made her mark first-year Potions essays."

Lucius raised one eyebrow. "I thought you said he didn't favour her?"

"You think that marking essays is some kind of reward?" Draco said incredulously.

"No, I think it's some kind of payment," Lucius said. "For lessons in manners."

Draco blinked. "Ah, that explains it."


"Our last Potions lesson, she was partnered with me, and she used the proper term for 'sole heir'."

Lucius frowned. "Did she now?" He rubbed one finger against his lips. "That won't do at all." He leaned forward, a slight smile on his face. "When you get back to Hogwarts, this is what you must do..."


Severus Snape spent the Christmas holidays at Hogwarts. It was strange to wander the almost-empty halls and think that these walls and foundations would still be there when he was dead and would not change whether he was remembered fondly or with hatred. He wondered whether Miss Granger would remember him fondly. Probably not. Not when she discovered his duplicity, his stupid bet. He felt a pang in his chest. No. It wasn't any kind of feeling for her, of course not. It was just indigestion.


"Hermione, have you been taking lessons from Luna?" Ginny asked as they lazed around in a post-Christmas-dinner stupor.

"Lessons in what?" Hermione asked.

"Lessons in being spaced out," Ginny said.

"Or perhaps this isn't really Hermione," Harry said with a grin, poking Hermione in the arm. "Ginny, are you sure she hasn't been swigging Polyjuice Potion?"

"No, if she were Luna, we'd already have been treated to the habits of the Lesser Spotted Snargle," Ron said.

"There's no such thing as the Lesser Spotted Snargle," Hermione said.

"Exactly!" Ron grinned.

Later on, the four of them sat on the porch, bundled up for warmth, watching the sunset. Ron put his arm around her shoulder. Hermione snuggled against him.

"Hermione, I love you," he said and kissed her. This wasn't a kiss in the midst of battle, fuelled by adrenaline and joy; it was soft and tender with a touch of possessiveness.

And Hermione felt nothing.


That night, Hermione couldn't get it out of her mind. Ron had kissed her, and she hadn't felt anything. Snape had only whispered in her ear, and she had... Well, she'd felt more than nothing. It wasn't that she didn't love Ron. Of course she did. But maybe she didn't love him in that way. Not that she loved Snape in that way, of course not. It was inconceivable.

But what could she do if she didn't know how she felt? It wasn't as if she could press a button and get the answer. Or could she?

Casting a faint Lumos, she got out her notebook and trusty ballpoint pen, moving quietly so as not to wake up Ginny. Arithmancy equations soon filled the page, and the next page, and the next. Hermione lost all track of time as she calculated and recalculated her problem. Hours later, she rubbed her burning eyes and leaned back with a sigh. The answer was there: she and Ron were simply not compatible. Oh, as friends they were fine, but they would never work as a couple.

What about you and Snape? her mind whispered. No. Not going there. Not going anywhere near there. Out of the question. But it couldn't hurt to rule him out, could it?

Realizing she wouldn't get any sleep unless she resolved that question too, she set forth on a second set of equations. It went faster this time, due to the similarity to the set she'd done for Ron. The result wasn't quite what she expected. Of course, it didn't say she was compatible with Snape, but it didn't say she was incompatible either. There were simply too many unknown variables to resolve the question, not least the one which had been nagging at her for a while: what was his real motive for teaching her pure-blood manners? It wasn't as if he were going to tell her.

She flopped back in her bed with a sigh. Enough. Time to sleep and to put these concerns out of her mind.


It was hard to get Ron alone to have a private talk, what with French practice with Fleur, impromptu games of Quidditch, snowball fights and the other family activities that seemed to take up all their time. Though if Hermione had to admit it to herself, she also wasn't trying very hard. It didn't occur to her that Ron might also be trying to avoid her. It wasn't until the afternoon of New Year's Day that she managed to corner the youngest Weasley male.

"Ron, we have to talk."

Ron sighed. "I know."

Hermione frowned. "You know? What is it that you think you know?"

He gestured between them. "You don't have to let me down gently, I know it isn't going to work out between us. I've known ever since Christmas Day. I just didn't want to admit it."

"Oh, Ron, I'm sorry," Hermione said.

"It's another bloke, isn't it?"

Hermione shook her head. "There isn't another bloke. We're just not compatible. I did Arithmancy calculations-"

Ron gave a bark of a laugh, though his eyes were sad. "Only you, Hermione, would break up with a bloke because her Arithmancy equations told her to."

"No hard feelings?" Hermione said.

Ron shrugged. "I guess."

She gave him a hug. "You know I love you, don't you? Just not in that way."

"Me too," Ron said. "Me too." And if he was lying to himself, neither of them called him on it.

Chapter 7: In Which Secrets Are Revealed And Decisions Are Made

In which Draco carries out his father's instructions, Hermione requires assistance, and Snape considers his priorities.

The Christmas holidays ended soon enough, and they were back at Hogwarts. Double Potions again, and again she was partnered with Draco Malfoy. He kept glancing at her as if she were a puzzle to be solved.

"What is it?" she asked.

"You'll never do it, you know," he said.

"Do what?"

"Win the bet," Malfoy said.

"What bet?" Hermione asked. "Has someone bet on our N.E.W.T. results?"

Malfoy glanced at Professor Snape, making sure he wasn't looking their way. "You mean he didn't tell you?"

"Who didn't tell me what?" Hermione asked.

"Not here," Draco said, glancing at Snape again. "Later."

"Malfoy," Hermione said.

Professor Snape swooped up behind them. "The dragonfly wings need to be finely ground, not coarsely ground," he said to Malfoy.

The pair talked only of the potion for the rest of the lesson, but Hermione resolved to get whatever it was out of Malfoy before the day ended.

She didn't have to wait very long; as they were finishing up lunch, Malfoy threw a crumpled piece of parchment at her head with a sneer. Instead of throwing it away, she put it in her lap and uncrumpled it. As she expected, it contained Draco's copperplate hand.

Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, ten minutes. Bring Potter and Weasley if you like, I don't care.

"What's that?" Harry asked.

Hermione explained. Ron volunteered to go with her while Harry stayed behind, just in case they needed rescuing. Hermione rolled her eyes, but agreed.


"Boys!" Moaning Myrtle shrieked and dived into her toilet.

Draco nodded at them both. "Granger. Weasley."

"So what's this bet?"

"Professor Snape bet my father that he could teach you pure-blood manners, enough to pass muster at the Ministry Ball. If he loses, he has to become Headmaster."

"If he loses, your father becomes Headmaster?" Ron said. "He can't do that!"

"No, you imbecile, if Professor Snape loses, he has to become Headmaster," Draco said.

"And if he wins?" Hermione asked.

"My father persuades the board of governors to stop offering Professor Snape the position," Draco said.

"Snape doesn't want to become Headmaster?" Ron said. "Pull the other one, Malfoy, it's got bells on it."

"No, it makes sense," Hermione said, casting her mind back to her interactions with Snape. "If he were Headmaster, he wouldn't be able to teach."

"Snape hates teaching," Ron protested.

Hermione shook her head. If she hadn't been so rooted in her lake, she might have suppressed a smile. "No, Ron, Professor Snape hates teaching dunderheads." She bowed her head at Draco. "Thank you, Master Draco, for this information. It has been most enlightening."


Dear Father,

It didn't work. Instead of getting angry, she thanked me for the information.

Your son,


That night, Hermione feverishly reworked her Arithmancy equations with her new data. When she saw the result, she nodded to herself, but felt nothing.


Severus Snape had spent the first week of term carefully observing Hermione Granger, and what he saw gave him cause for concern. She was calm, too calm. She didn't smile, nor did she frown. Her work, of course, had not suffered, so none of the other teachers paid any attention to her unnatural calm. But then they had no reason to suspect it was unnatural.

As soon as she entered his office on Friday night, he closed and locked the door and cast a privacy spell.

"How long have you been occluding?" he asked.

"I'm not-"

"You are." His raised eyebrow dared her to question his expertise.

"Shouldn't you be pleased about that?" she said.

"Foolish child," he said. "It is unwise to occlude constantly. You are hiding all your emotions, not just the negative ones. How long?"

"Since Christmas," she admitted.

He blinked. "You have been occluding constantly for more than two weeks?"

"Harry was supposed to-"

"Mister Potter had a direct connection to the Dark Lord. He was supposed to be keeping an external influence out of his head. You, on the other hand, have been keeping yourself out of your head. Have you no idea of the- No, of course you don't, there aren't any books on Occlumency in the library." He towered over her. "Stop occluding. Now."

Her face went blank as she accessed her inner landscape. Then her eyes became present, and she said, in a completely flat voice, "I can't."

He knew that if she had been herself she would have been panicking. He kept his voice even. "If you would allow me to assist you?"

"How?" she asked.

"I would have to enter your-"


"I am willing to swear a wand-oath to keep what I see to myself," he said. "Believe me, I am aware of what most students think of me." He raised one eyebrow. "Or is a little embarrassment more important than your sanity?"

Her eyes widened. She shook her head.

"You refuse?"

"No! I mean, I don't refuse."

Snape raised his wand. "I, Severus Snape-"

She pushed his arm down. "That isn't necessary. I trust you."

"You shouldn't," he said.

"I know."

He took a deep breath to centre himself, raised his wand, and stared into her cinnamon-brown eyes. "Legilimens!"

There was, as he expected, a lake. He dived in. The advantage of having suggested the imagery she had used was that he knew exactly what to look for. Down he went, to where the lake was deepest and darkest. Down, down, down, down to the bottom, to the very centre of the lake. There, a glimmer; he had found it. He swam towards the glint. It was a chest, all right, but rather than being bound in chains, it was wrapped in ghost-pale tentacles. No. They were roots. Some of the tendrils entered into the chest, prying into the seams, sealing it tight. Ah. So that was how she was feeding her emotions into it. He dared not damage the roots; he would risk damaging her.

He stroked a hand against the tendrils along one edge. Let go, Miss Granger... Hermione. This was no time for formalities. It's all right. Let go. The roots began to move. That's right, keep going. Slowly, the roots withdrew. Just when they had almost all gone from the chest, they turned and wrapped around him instead. Panic beat at him in waves, momentarily overwhelming him. Hermione, don't!

I can't - I need- Her voice around him.

You don't need this. He projected calm, stillness. The panic subsided. You don't need this crutch; you are strong enough without it.

Shame. Self-doubt. No, I'm not.

Yes, you are.

No, I'm not.

Are we going to play the yes-no game like children? he asked.

A ripple of amusement, and the roots pulled back. He stepped towards the chest.


Yes, this too, he insisted. You must unlock the chest. He placed a hand on the lid. It is safe. It is safe, Hermione.

Please don't hate me.

I promise I won't hate you.

The chest opened. He was buffeted with memories, feelings, images. Draco Malfoy, her parents, Lucius and Narcissa, the Weasleys, himself. As ever with Legilimency, the thing the person most wanted to hide was the very thing that was most clear. His voice sending shivers down her spine, his lips caressing her knuckles, an Arithmancy equation full of unknowns.

A moment later, he was back in his own mind, staring into her eyes. Hermione blushed scarlet and stared at the floor.

"I see," he said quietly. "Perhaps it would be best if we did not continue these lessons."

She looked up at him then. "No!" she said. "I don't want you to forfeit the bet."

He raised one eyebrow. "Bet?"

"Draco told me."

"Ah, I should have expected that." He studied her open face. "Why don't you hate me for it?"

She gave him a wry smile, the smile he had missed. "Why should I hate the Head of Slytherin for being a Slytherin? That would be rather silly."

"That has stopped neither your elders nor your peers from doing so," he said.

"More fool them," she said.

"Indeed," he said. He gazed at her silently. She neither fidgeted nor blushed. Good. She might be infatuated with him, but he didn't think she would let it interfere with her studies. She was no fool. "Very well," he said, "we shall continue with the lessons."

She beamed at him.

"However, I think, for your own safety, the next thing I need to teach you is Occlumency. Properly."


When Hermione had learned enough of Occlumency to no longer be a danger to herself, the lessons returned to pure-blood manners, but this time, with both of them in the know about the bet and Hermione no longer feeling the pressure of trying to be Ron's girlfriend, they concentrated on what would be needed for the Ministry Ball. Snape quizzed her relentlessly on family trees, and Hermione haunted the History section of the library, trying to grasp the interconnections between Wizarding families and the people behind them. She found it easier to remember them when she knew their histories, not just their names.

Neither Snape nor Hermione alluded to what Snape had discovered that night. If they ignored it, then they didn't have to deal with it. Not that there was anything to deal with, really. Hermione kept on telling herself that it was a crush and she'd get over it when she left Hogwarts. Out of sight, out of mind.

As for Snape, it had baffled him at first, how anyone could find him attractive. He was ugly; he had a nasty temper and a vicious tongue. Yes, he knew his voice was his best feature, but that would never be enough. The girl was deluding herself. It was just a schoolgirl crush. She would forget him as soon as she entered the wider world beyond Hogwarts. Out of sight, out of mind.

If he found himself studying her face when she ate in the Great Hall, he told himself it was just because he wanted to be sure she didn't have a relapse and fall into the same Occlumency trap as before. It wasn't because he wanted to store her countenance in his memory, the only thing he would have of her after she was gone.


"There's something that's been puzzling me about the Lestrange family history," Hermione said, smoothing out the parchment on which she'd been drawing the family tree in question.

"Indeed? What is that?" Snape said.

"I don't understand why the Duchess Marguerite didn't simply allow the emerald necklace to pass on to her detested new daughter-in-law," Hermione said. "Certainly, Lady Electra would not have been able to decline it, in good etiquette, and nobody could have accused the Duchess of having known about the curse."

Snape froze. What? "You're puzzled because Duchess Marguerite Lestrange did not commit murder," he said in a flat voice.

"It would have been the logical thing to do," Hermione said. "For a Slytherin, I mean."

"As the Duchess did not attend Hogwarts, we do not know what her House would have been," Snape said, outwardly calm. Is this what I have taught her? To think so much like the worst kind of pureblood that she considers cold-blooded murder to be logical?

"Ah, that probably explains it," Hermione said.

"Does it?" he said. "Have I taught you nothing about questioning your assumptions, then?"


After she had left, Snape sat in his darkened office, head in his hands. Fine, he had taught her to think like a Slytherin, to weigh every word heard and spoken, to consider motive and intent, however distasteful. Hadn't he wanted to destroy her naivete, strip off her illusions? So, he had succeeded. Why did he feel so appalled?

It was then Snape realized he didn't want her to go to the ball, didn't want her to embroil herself in his affairs. So what if he lost the stupid bet? Up until now she had been playing at pure-blood manners; if she went to the ball, she would be caught in the real thing, which for purebloods like the Malfoys was as close to politics as it was to manners. For every Weasley or Longbottom of the world, there would always be a Malfoy or Lestrange. The knives would be out, and she must needs wound in return. It would be too late to turn back, to return to the very Gryffindor forthrightness that was one of the things that made her Hermione. Once she entered the game, she wouldn't be able to leave. It would destroy her.

So what if he was forced to become Headmaster? What did that matter compared with saving her? Not for himself, no; she would probably never forgive him for sabotaging her chances at the ball. That didn't matter either. Only Hermione mattered. Only Hermione.

Chapter 8: In Which Hermione Demonstrates Herself To Be A True Princess

The Ministry Ball, and the end of our tale.

The second of May came around at last; the day of the Ministry Ball. The skies were grey, but the temperature was warm. Hermione had enlisted Lolly's help in preparing a dress for the ball. The autumn tones brought out the red-gold highlights of her hair and the warm colour of her eyes. Hermione was filled with a mix of nerves and excitement. She nibbled a piece of toast at breakfast, having no appetite for anything more. It being Sunday, and early, few people were at the tables yet, though Snape sat at the High Table, staring at her. He'd been doing a lot of that lately. It wasn't a hostile stare, more of an... evaluating look.

She had started on a second piece of toast when he left the High Table and came sweeping towards her. He handed her a steaming cup.

"A soothing infusion," he said in her ear. "I think you will need more than just toast to sustain you."

She smiled at his thoughtfulness. He didn't smile back.

Half an hour later, she knew why.

"Bastard!" she muttered, staring at her spot-covered face in the mirror. It had to have been Snape; a potion in the tea. It had brought her out in hives. But why the hell had he done it? Well, she wouldn't find out by staring in the mirror. She made her way quickly to the dungeons and knocked on his office door. There was no answer. He wasn't in the Potions classroom either. As she stepped out the door, she ran straight into Draco Malfoy.

He snickered. "So the little Muggle-born won't be going to the ball after all," he said. "Guess we'll be getting a Slytherin Headmaster for sure."

"Malfoy," Hermione said, ignoring his taunts, "where's Professor Snape?"

Malfoy sneered. "He's gone already. I saw him leave."

"Do you know where?"

Malfoy shrugged. "Perhaps he went to see my father to beg for an extension on the bet."

"I don't think so," Hermione muttered.


Madam Pomfrey was no help. "I'm afraid it will just have to wear off, dear," she said. "If it had been a curse, I might have been able to do something about it, but it appears to be a normal allergic reaction. Did you eat or drink something unusual?"

I drank a ruddy potion, Hermione thought, and knowing Professor Snape, there probably isn't a counter-potion. "I drank some herbal tea," Hermione said. "That was probably it."

"Here's some soothing cream," Madam Pomfrey said, handing her a jar. "It should help with the itching."

Hermione plastered a smile on her face, thanked Madam Pomfrey and left.


Hermione paced up and down in front of the mirror. "Allergic reaction, my foot!" she muttered. "I'll give him a bloody allergic reaction! Bastard." She pulled at her hair in frustration. "Why? Why, why, why, why, why?" Perhaps he expected her to fail and wanted to spare her the humiliation. Didn't he know that she would rather try and fail than not try at all? Or maybe he did know. "Why?" She started pacing again, the words pounding in time with her steps: allergic reaction, allergic reaction, allergic re- She stopped short. A slow smile grew on her spot-covered face. Then, she scrambled out of her clothes, pulled on jeans and a t-shirt, and pulled her school robes on over the top. Ten minutes later she burst into the entrance hall and out the doors, running to the Apparition point. A turn on her heel and she was in Muggle London, a five-minute walk from a 24-hour Chemist. Fifteen minutes later, she exited the shop carrying a white paper bag.

Back at Hogwarts, she pulled a bottle out of the bag. "Piriton," the label read, "non-drowsy formula."

Hermione followed the instructions the pharmacist had given her, swallowing the pills with a glass of water. An hour later, her spots and itching were gone. Hermione kissed the bottle. "Antihistamines," she said, "I love you."


Nobody could have been more surprised than Severus Snape when Hermione arrived at the ball, though he didn't show it. He knew his potion had worked. It was only logical that she would come to the dungeons to confront him, so he had given Draco the impression that he had already left, but instead he had lurked in the shadows and seen the spots on her face for himself. He didn't know how she'd overcome it; no potion could have done so, and he was so much a Potions master that the possibility of Muggle medicines never crossed his mind. She couldn't be wearing a glamour; the security measures at the ball would have prevented it. Why, oh why did she have to be so ingenious? Of course, he knew why; she wouldn't be Hermione if she wasn't brilliant. Brilliant and beautiful, as untamed as any dryad, and so soon to be corrupted. His eyes never left her as she made her way towards her table. There she was among the scorpions, and he could do nothing about it except stand there stone-faced while either she would be humiliated or join the company of scorpions as their queen for a day or a week. He could not say which possibility disgusted him more.


Hermione scanned for her assigned seat. Rather than having the guests of honour at a high table, the Minister had thought it good PR to scatter the heroes throughout the crowd, one or two to each table. She cast her mind through the protocols. As a guest of honour, she was supposed to sit first and leave last.

Mere minutes later, Narcissa Malfoy sat next to her in a rustle of expensive ivory silk. Of course, Hermione thought. She would have made sure to be seated nearby. Lucius Malfoy sat down next to his wife.

"Hermione, my dear," Narcissa said. "I may call you Hermione, may I not?"

Hermione inclined her head slightly. "Only if you permit me to call you Narcissa." Let the games begin.

"So, it must be hard to concentrate on all this frivolity, what with your N.E.W.T.s coming up," Narcissa said.

First gambit, Hermione thought, remind everyone that I'm barely an adult. The obvious counter-move is to imply that she's an old hag. Why do I have to do that? She's still one of the most stunningly beautiful women I've ever seen. Shove them and their game-playing. I'm going to give them some real manners. "What did you study for your N.E.W.T.s, Narcissa?"

The mealtime conversation continued in this fashion. Her table-mates would make double-edged comments, and of every reply Hermione considered, she always chose the most courteous one. She actually began to enjoy herself. Instead of anger at her opponents, a bubble of glee formed inside her and her smiles came more and more easily. They're just people, she thought. Sad, bitter people who just lost a war.

That's when she got The Idea.

She excused herself from the table and went to the ladies' room. There, she transfigured a parchment and pen, wrote a quick note and sealed it.

"Lolly!" she said.

As she'd hoped, the house-elf appeared. "What can Lolly do for Miss Hermione?"

"Deliver this note to Kingsley Shacklebolt. Quietly. And return with his response."

The house-elf nodded. "Lolly will be very quiet and quick." She vanished.

Hermione paced for five minutes before Lolly returned. Scrawled on the back of her note was one word: "Yes."


They had reached the cheese and fruit stage of the meal when Kingsley Shacklebolt stood up and called for attention. "I thank you all for coming here today," he said, "to celebrate with me the defeat of Tom Riddle, who styled himself Lord Voldemort." Kingsley paused as some of his audience gasped. "Defeated by the hand of Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived." The audience applauded loudly. There were even a few cheers. "But while Harry Potter lived, there were many who died in this war. In memory of them, I have commissioned a Wall of Remembrance; their names will be written there tonight. Witches and Wizards, I present to you Miss Hermione Granger."

Hermione stood up and made her way to the platform as the audience applauded, though not as enthusiastically as they had for Harry.

"We are here today to celebrate a victory," Hermione said. "And we are here today to remember those who died to achieve it."

Kingsley Shacklebolt handed her a scroll of parchment and the orb that had been charmed to inscribe her spoken words on the memorial wall. She unrolled the scroll; it was in alphabetical order, by first name. Not what she'd expected; it made her self-imposed task both easier and harder. Kingsley smiled at her encouragingly. She wondered if he would be so pleased when she departed from the script.

Hermione chose her words carefully. "We honour the fallen, who fought for what they believed in." The words appeared on the black marble wall, inscribed in flowing golden letters.

"Alastor Moody."

"Albus Dumbledore."

"Amelia Bones."

Hermione continued on through the A's. Then on to the B's.

"Bathilda Bagshot."

Hermione fought to keep her voice steady for the next name, one that wasn't on the list she'd been given. It was hard, so hard, to put her hatred aside and do this. But if she didn't try, then they were doomed to fight this war all over again in another generation's time. "Bellatrix Lestrange."

The crowd murmured. Kingsley made an abortive gesture to stop her, but the damage, if damage it was, was already done.

Hermione took a deep breath and continued. "Benjy Fenwick." On she went, interspersing the names of those on the other side who had died fighting. Every time she did, the crowd muttered, but soon even that stopped and the hall was deathly silent.

She came to the end of the list, of both lists. Now for her final words. "In death, all are equal."

Hermione handed the orb back to Kingsley and nearly dropped it, her hands were shaking so much. She could feel everyone's eyes on her. She stood there steadily; she had done nothing to be ashamed of.

Someone started clapping. Her eyes darted towards the sound. It was Severus. He was almost smiling. A moment later, Molly Weasley clapped, and then, of all people, Narcissa Malfoy joined in. Then the whole hall was applauding her.


"Well, Severus, I concede the bet," Lucius said. "After that performance, how could I not?"

"It wasn't a performance," Snape said. "She's a Gryffindor; she meant every word." His heart ached. She was magnificent and she was not his to have.

"You aren't falling for another little Gryffindor Muggle-born, are you?" Lucius teased.

"No," Snape said. He wasn't falling; he'd already fallen.


The dancing began as soon as they cleared the tables away, and it seemed every pure-blood male under fifty asked Hermione to dance. But the one person she wanted to talk to she couldn't see anywhere. Finally, pleading fatigue, she retreated to the ladies' and cast a point-me spell.

Hermione found Severus standing on a balcony in the dark.

"You're not dancing," she said.

"I don't dance," he replied.

"You applauded me."

"A momentary lapse of judgement on my part," Snape said. "I assure you I won't do it again."

She couldn't tell if he was teasing or serious. "I'm sorry," Hermione said. "I had to do it, even if it wasn't... proper."

"No apology needed," he said. "You won."

"I won? We won?" Hermione said.

"I do not need to become Headmaster."

She smiled. "Yes!" Then she frowned. "I still owe you an apology. I was gambling with your freedom."

"In that case," he said, "I owe you an apology for gambling with what makes you Hermione Granger." He sighed, a breath of regret. "I gave you all the tools you needed to succeed in a game of corruption, and I knew very well what it might do to you if you played it." His eyes bored into hers, a gaze so intent that the rest of the world faded away. "And instead of corruption, you played compassion and won the game for everyone." He took her hand and kissed the back of it. "You take my breath away."

Her eyes glimmered with tears, and her heart felt like it would burst. "That was why," she said. "That was why you gave me that potion. You were trying to protect me."

"More fool me," he said, letting go her hand. "Go back to the dance."

She shook her head. This was where she wanted to be. And she realized, at that moment, that it wasn't, that it had never been just a crush.

"Go, child," he said. "Leave me here in the dark where I belong."

"I'm not a child," she said. "I haven't been a child for a while."

He shook his head.

"Severus," Hermione said and raised her wand, turning it in an elegant curve. "Capilli comptus!"

His hair was ruffled by an invisible breeze, pushed away from his face and bound with a silver ribbon.

"Miss Granger, please don't mistake -"

"Not a mistake," she said. "A statement of intent. A request. A question. But not a mistake."

"I'm your teacher," he said.

"Not for very much longer," she said. "I can wait."

"I'm too old -"

"Nonsense," she said. "You're not even forty. The youngest professor on staff." She put a hand on his cheek. "Please, don't try to out-stubborn a Gryffindor."

"Miss Granger -"

"Hermione," she corrected.

He closed his eyes and breathed deep, one breath, two breaths, three. Then he opened his eyes and looked at her. "Hermione," he said. "Capilli comptus!"

Her hair was bound by a breeze as his had been, but this time the ribbon was gold. She smiled.

"Miss Granger," Severus said, "would you care for a dance?"



Scenes from the Ministry Ball; in which there is dancing, disagreement, diplomacy and discussion.

Dancing with Severus was easy because Hermione wasn't worrying about where to put her feet. Dancing with Severus was difficult because Hermione wasn't even thinking about where to put her feet. One of his hands was at her waist and the other at her shoulder, such a proper distance, and yet she felt as giddy as if it had been a kiss. She couldn't stop smiling. The expression on his face wouldn't be called a smile by those who didn't know him - just a slight up-turn of his lips - but the warmth in his eyes left Hermione no doubt that he was as glad to be in her arms as she was to be in his.

She didn't notice the stares, but Severus did.

"Am I intruding on someone's territory?" His almost-smile didn't fade.


"The youngest Mister Weasley is giving us a death-glare." He sounded amused rather than annoyed.

Hermione frowned. "The idiot! We broke up over Christmas; he should know better." She raised her eyebrows at Severus. "Why aren't you angry at him?"

Severus's lips quirked. "Because I am wearing your ribbon and he is not."

Hermione's smile returned. "Very good point."

The dance ended all too soon. Hermione reluctantly stepped away from Severus. "I am going to speak with Ron. If you hear a girly scream, it won't be mine."

Severus smirked.


"You and Snape? If that -" Ron began.

"If I hear the words 'greasy git' from your lips, you'll be belching spiders for the rest of the evening."

Ron paled.

"You don't own me, Ronald Bilius Weasley! How dare you pitch a fit about who I dance with?"

"I am not pitching a fit. You're the one who's yelling at me."

"I don't appreciate being glared at," Hermione said.

"I wasn't glaring at you," Ron said.

"Or my dance partner," she said. "It's none of your business."

"I'm your friend," Ron said. "Aren't I allowed to be worried about you?"

"Worried? Don't be silly."

"It's not silly," Ron said. "Look, I could see you were happy dancing with him. The whole room could see it. That's why I'm worried."

Hermione frowned. "You're worried because I'm happy. Thanks a lot, Ron."

"The happier you are, the more it will hurt when he does something unforgivable," Ron said. "And he will. This is Snape; you know he will."

"He will not!"

"He blamed Harry for things Harry's father did to him. That's hardly reasonable. He's got a temper as short as the fuse on a five-second firecracker."

"So do you," Hermione pointed out. "So I already know how to deal with it."

Ron looked taken aback. "Good point." His lips twitched as he suppressed a smile.


"Snape. Canaries."

Hermione suppressed her own smile at the image. "If need be."

"He'd probably vanish them or something," Ron said.

"But he still would have gotten the point."

"You hope."

"He is smarter than you are, Ron," she said.

Ron made a face. "You fell in love with his brains, didn't you? Figures."

She sighed. "I don't think he'd ever have admitted he cared if I hadn't acted first."

"You kissed him, didn't you?"

Hermione smiled. "There has been no kissing... yet."

Ron put his hands over his eyes. "Oh, I want to scrub out my brain."

"You're the one who brought up kissing."

Ron made a face. "Just don't do it in front of me, okay?"

"There will be no kissing until school is over."

"Thank goodness!"

"And no badmouthing him in my presence, or it will be spiders."

Ron shuddered. "You suit each other; you're just as scary as he is."


"Miss Granger," said a smooth, cultured voice, "would you honour me with this dance?"

She looked up at Lucius Malfoy. "Is it an honour?"

"You honoured my dead, I honour you," he said.

It's easier to forgive the dead than the living, she thought. Yet I must continue as I mean to go on. She accepted his hand.

"Besides," he added as he pulled her onto the dance floor, "Severus is a friend of mine. All the more reason to behave cordially towards his lady."

"I find I must thank you for that," Hermione said.


"If it had not been for your bet, we would not have reached an understanding," she said.

His eyes flicked to the ribbon in her hair. "I admit I am surprised," he said. "Not for Severus - he always had a penchant for Gryffindor Muggle-borns - but for you."

"And I thought you said he was your friend," she returned. "Surely you are aware of his better qualities?"

"But they are such Slytherin qualities I didn't think a Gryffindor would be capable of appreciating them."

"I would think that faithfulness, brilliance and wit would be universal qualities, would they not?"

"But I doubt you appreciate his Slytherin cunning."

"Of course I appreciate it," Hermione said. She gave a sweet, false smile. "Without that cunning, Voldemort might have won."



Severus spied Hermione across the room, easing herself into a chair. Too much dancing, my dear? He passed by the drinks table, snagging two glasses of punch along the way over to her. Severus handed her a glass and sat down next to her, sipping his own.

Hermione thanked him absently, a frown creasing her brow. "Why must he play these games?"

Severus looked in the direction of her gaze. Lucius Malfoy was dancing with Luna Lovegood. Severus wondered what Lucius had said to Hermione when they had danced. "Because he is a Slytherin, and always will be."

"No, he isn't," she countered. "He ceased being a Slytherin when he graduated." He could see the ideas connecting in her mind while she spoke, as if they had been awaiting just one more thread to make the pattern clear. "And yet he clings to it, everyone clings to it as if it defines their existence. But it doesn't define, it imprisons. The body has left, but the mind is still living between the four towers of Hogwarts. This is why the war started; not just pure-bloods versus Mudbloods, but Slytherin versus Gryffindor, generation after generation, ever since Godric quarrelled with Salazar."

Severus swallowed the familiar bitterness. She meant well. She always did. There was only a hint of a sneer in his voice when he said, "So you will start a campaign to abolish Slytherin like you wanted to free house-elves?"

"Of course not!" Hermione said. "I'd rather abolish the House system completely."

He rolled his eyes. Typical Gryffindor. "Neither the Board nor the parents would stand for it. Centuries of tradition are not overturned so easily. Slytherin, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Gryffindor will remain so long as Hogwarts stands and there is a Sorting Hat to sort." A speculative look crossed her face, and Severus spoke before she could suggest something even more ridiculous, such as destroying the Sorting Hat. "You will just have to put up with the existence of Slytherin, no matter how dark you think it."

"That's just it," Hermione said. "Dumbledore was wrong; he was blinded by the whole stupid system. He thought anyone who was a Gryffindor was automatically good, and anyone who was a Slytherin was automatically bad. No wonder the Order was mostly Gryffindors."

"And the Death Eaters were mostly Slytherin," Severus said with a sour twist to his mouth. "Surely that proves Albus to have been right?"

"You of all people can't believe that!" Hermione protested.

"Perhaps I am the exception that proves the rule." I am not a good man, my dear, no matter how much you would like to think so.

"No, you're the exception that proves the rule wrong," Hermione said. "You didn't embrace Gryffindor ideals like a compliant little follower, you fought Voldemort with all the cunning you possessed. Imagine how much sooner the war would have been won if the Order had been more diverse. Instead, most of them treated you like dirt because you weren't like them. It's so utterly stupid!"

"Don't tilt at windmills on my behalf," Severus said, moved despite himself. "You can't change it. It will always be us versus them."

"No, no, that's the heart of it," Hermione said. "There is no us-versus-them, there is only us. Hate builds on hate, over and over. Hate and ignorance and blindness. Salazar Slytherin was blinded by his prejudice, and perpetuated that blindness in his House, so it was full of pure-bloods and half-bloods who didn't know anything about Muggle-borns, and that made it easy for them to hate. That hate brought hate in return, especially among Gryffindors. Not much of a step from 'Slytherins are all pure-blood Muggle-haters' to 'All Slytherins are evil and can't be trusted', is it? It wasn't Slytherin cunning and ambition that made them enemies, it was the assumption that they were already enemies. If that cunning is in an ally, it becomes an asset. And why do people assume that ambition means selfishness? There can be ambition for good as well as ambition for evil."

"I assure you, my ambition is completely selfish." Right now, that ambition included kissing her senseless. But he could hardly do so in public. And in private, he wasn't sure he wanted to stop at kissing. The next two months were going to be the longest in his life.

Their eyes locked. There was nothing but her eyes and his heartbeat.

Someone cleared their throat. "Professor Snape. Miss Granger."

Severus looked up. A tall, thin figure in a pointed hat stood in front of them. "Headmistress."

Minerva's lips were pressed together in a straight line. "What is the meaning of this indecorous display? A teacher - and a student! How long has this been going on?"

Hermione flushed red, but Severus deliberately leaned back and looked at his watch. "Twenty-seven minutes."

"I beg your pardon?" Minerva said.

"And so you should," Severus replied. "Do you still not trust me?"

It was Minerva's turn to blush. "My pardon, Severus."

"We haven't done anything but talk," Hermione said earnestly. "Professor Snape hasn't done anything inappropriate."

Severus gestured to a seat beside them. "Do join us, Minerva. We've been discussing the House system. Miss Granger wishes to abolish it."


"So I have assured her," Severus said.

Minerva sat down next to Hermione. "Why on earth would you wish to abolish the Houses?"

"It's like the Sorting Hat said - Hogwarts has been divided ever since the Founders quarrelled, and all that does is lead to wars like this one," Hermione said. "Fine, we can't abolish the Houses, but for goodness' sake, the way Hogwarts is set up, it's practically impossible to even get to know people from other Houses, let alone make friends with them! Every single thing one does at Hogwarts is done by House: eating, sleeping, classes, studying, sport. The only ones that are really required are sleeping and sport."

"Indeed, the world would end if one abolished the Quidditch Cup," Severus drawled. He was intrigued despite himself. Was there actually a compromise that could be reached?

"But the timetables have always been done by House," Minerva said. "To tailor the teaching to their needs."

"That's nonsense and you know it," Severus said. "If that were the case, Slytherin and Gryffindor would never have Potions together."

"And wouldn't it be so much easier if you could figure out the First Years' timetables beforehand, instead of having to wait until they're Sorted?"

"Yes, I see, you do have a point," Minerva said.

Severus's mouth twitched. "One could sneak it in under the guise of timetable reform."

Minerva frowned at him. "It would be timetable reform, Severus. No need to sneak it in at all."

"You Gryffindors have no appreciation for subterfuge," Severus said.

"Oh, we do," Hermione said. "We'd just rather leave it to the experts."

Severus smirked. "Any more brilliant ideas for forcing the Houses to mingle?"

Hermione frowned in thought. "Well, you don't have to seat the students by House for meals, do you? Apart from the Sorting Feast and the Leaving Feast, I mean. What if there were smaller tables instead of just four big ones? It's not impossible - there were different tables for the Yule ball, remember?"

"The house-elves -" Minerva began.

"Would enjoy the challenge," Severus pointed out.

"True," Minerva said.

"Maybe students could be encouraged to use the Great Hall for study groups. Somewhere less quiet than the Library, but more quiet than the Common Rooms," Hermione said. "It's very hard to study when people are playing Exploding Snap!"

"It is also hard to study when you're being hexed," Severus said dryly.

"And it's hard to walk to classes when you're being hexed, too," Hermione returned. "Does that mean that walking to class should be forbidden?"

"Not at all," Severus said. "I merely point out that such use of the Great Hall would need to be supervised."

"Why, are you volunteering, Severus?" Minerva said with a twinkle in her eye.

Severus did not rise to the bait. "Prefects should be sufficient, as they are for intra-House discipline."

"Perhaps," Minerva said. She turned towards Hermione. "All your ideas have merit, Miss Granger, but I'm not sure that the Governors would agree."

"Oh, don't worry about the Governors, Minerva," Severus said smugly. "It so happens that Lucius owes me a favour."

~ the very end ~

Author's Notes

This was the prompt: Cultural education for Muggle-borns is severely lacking at Hogwarts and, given the secrecy and insularity of the magical world, not everything is written in a book. Ignorance may be bliss, but Hermione's social faux pas leads to unintended (and, if inclined, entertaining) consequences.

Thanks to Project Gutenberg for The Laws of Etiquette (http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/5681) (written in 1836) which I used to get a feel for the kind of old-fashioned etiquette which the Wizarding world might hold.

The idea that house-elves do their work out of love comes from the awesome Pet Project by Caeria. I first encountered the idea that the Advanced Potions textbook has deliberate mistakes in it, in order to prepare students for real grimoires, in the story Accountable, by Dyce.

Latin for spells was taken from the English-Latin dictionary at http://cawley.archives.nd.edu/cgi-bin/lookdown.pl, and then cross-referenced with the Latin-English dictionary on the same site, as a sanity check. Of course, I'm certain the grammar is completely wrong, but canon didn't seem to worry about that, so I won't either.

capilli: hair; hair of head
conlineo: align, direct, aim
plexus: interwoven; intricate (plait)
comptus: arrange/do (hair); adorn, make beautiful; embellish; arrange in order, set out

Thanks to poulpette for the French translations of Lucius Malfoy's speech in Hermione's dream, and RaeWhit for the corrections of same.
"Tu n'as pas de place ici, et n'en nauras jamais" -> "You don't belong here, you'll never belong here."
"Pauvre fille, comment oses-tu pretendre a atteindre notre niveau?" -> "Stupid girl, how dare you aspire to our level?"
"Tu n'es' meme pas digne de lecher la boue des semelles de mes chaussures." -> "You're not even worth licking the mud under my soles."

The casualty list in the Memorial Wall scene is taken from http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Category:Second_War_casualties and http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_deaths