Dear Miss Granger,
If today’s display is anything to go by, the Quidditch Cup will be back where it belongs by the end of the year, and Minerva McGonagall will owe me a lot of money. I heard that Gryffindor and Ravenclaw were fairly evenly matched this year, but the Slytherin team played flawlessly against Hufflepuff. Not that it was difficult - some of the Hufflepuffs could barely stay on their brooms. I don’t know how Pomona Sprout can hold her head up in the staff room.
It seemed suitable that my first adventure out of the castle was to watch a Slytherin quidditch victory. I walked there quite slowly with the headmistress, then back with Professor Williams and Flitwick, and did not feel overly tired by it. I noticed you there with Miss Longbottom and Miss Weasley. I know that you have been trying to build friendships with Slytherins, but I assume that does not extend as far as the quidditch pitch.
Williams has decided to support Hufflepuff - he says he often likes to root for the underdog. He was even willing to put his gold on the table and bet me five galleons that they would win. I suppose that in itself is a very Hufflepuff attitude. Apparently, Minerva had suggested that he try asking the sorting hat which house he would have been in, but the hat couldn’t feel anything from him. When the hat spoke aloud, he could hear it, but it couldn’t communicate silently with him, the way it does with witches and wizards. It had never even occurred to me to wonder how it would deal with muggles and squibs.
I have agreed to join Williams and Flitwick for a drink in Hogsmeade once I can make it that far, but I will have to work up to walking that distance.
Enjoy your weekend,
Hermione wrapped her heavy robes around her, thankful for their warmth. She was walking with Ginny, Luna, Leanne, Ezekiel and Thomas towards the Three Broomsticks. They hadn’t talked much on the way, as their scarves were wrapped around their faces against the strong wind.
They reached the warmth of the pub eventually, and headed towards an empty table.
Madam Rosmerta came over towards them with a smile as they unwrapped themselves.
“Well, this is a sight I don’t think I’ve ever seen before this year,” she said. “Let’s see… three Gryffindors, one Ravenclaw, one Hufflepuff and a Slytherin.” She gestured towards their house scarves. “Things certainly seem to be changing at Hogwarts.”
The six students smiled around at each other.
Rosmerta took their drink requests and went back to the bar.
“It is strange,” agreed Leanne, looking at Thomas. “Especially so soon after the war. I’d expected a lot of the Slytherins to be angry, but you mostly just seem really quiet.”
“I think many of the Slytherins are ashamed of what happened, and are scared of how other people will blame them.” Luna’s analysis was straight to the point, as always. “But, remember, a lot of the Slytherins lots family members - either killed or in Azkaban.”
Thomas sighed, his face serious. “I’m lucky that I didn’t lose anyone very close. My family agreed with the… with Voldemort early on, but gradually changed their minds. We’re mostly purebloods, but my parents have never really cared much about that. I lost an aunt and two uncles, but I didn’t really know them very well. There are still some die-hards in Slytherin, but you’re right, Luna. Most of us are ashamed and scared of being hated.”
“I noticed that the numbers were down at the sorting this year,” Ginny commented quietly. “Only two girls and three boys sorted into Slytherin.”
“I think there were quite a few who would have been in Slytherin but really didn’t want to be, otherwise the hat would have distributed them evenly, like it usually does,” said Thomas.
They were all quiet for a moment, then Luna spoke up.
“We all became very sad and thoughtful for a while,” she said. “Let’s cheer up and talk about something more fun.”
They all smiled, thankful for her ability to say what nobody else wanted to.
Rosmerta arrived with a tray of drinks, and they brightened up as they distributed them.
“So what’s new on the newspaper front?” asked Hermione.
“I wrote to Kingsley Shacklebolt, like you suggested,” Thomas told her. “I’m waiting to hear back from him.”
“And Daddy is going to talk to someone he knows about getting more equipment,” added Luna. “We could manage with just one printing press for a little while, but ours is old. The new newspaper would probably be published monthly at first, but later it would need to be weekly.”
“And eventually daily.”
Hermione smiled at the way Thomas and Luna were working together so well. She didn’t think there was anything other than friendship, but it was nice to see.
She was surprised when Ezekiel spoke up. He was so quiet she had almost forgotten he was there. “How would you manage that, while you’re at school?” he asked.
“It would only be monthly until then, but we want to start planning for when we leave.”
“What will you call it?” asked Ginny.
Thomas laughed. “That’s a good question. Any suggestions?”
“The Wizarding World?”
“The Magical Chronicle.”
It was an enjoyable afternoon. They talked a lot about the newspaper, and everyone had suggestions for future stories as well as names. There was some discussion about the Snape article, but in the two weeks since its publication, it had been thoroughly discussed and the conversation quickly veered onto other topics.
They visited Tomes and Scrolls, where Hermione could have spent many hours but forced herself to hurry so as not to bore the others, then Honeyduke's. Walking towards Dervish and Banges, they passed the old, boarded-up front of Zonko’s Joke Shop, now with a banner hanging over the front door, saying “Coming soon: Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes”.
The wind had died down considerably since they had reached the village, and they had a much more pleasant walk back to the school, with Ginny telling them all about George’s plans for the shop.
The only problem with the afternoon was the fact that Ezekiel seemed to be at Hermione’s elbow every time she turned around. In the sweet shop, he handed her a sugar quill with an end shaped like a rose. Not wanting to be rude, but definitely not wanting to encourage him, she thanked him and offered him a liquorish wand, acting as though the quill was nothing more than sharing politely. When he worked up the courage to speak to her, she replied pleasantly but briefly and immediately brought other people into the conversation so it was not simply the two of them. She thought he was nice enough, but he was just not her type. Not that she really had a ‘type’, but she knew that Ezekiel wasn’t it. Neither Victor nor Ron, the only two boys she had gone out with, had been what she had been looking for either. She appreciated intelligent conversation about interesting subjects, a sense of humour, and depth of personality. She liked dark hair and dark eyes… She shook her head. He's a professor, Hermione, she told herself as they reached the castle. You're just friends.
“Professor, Doesn’t this go against the usual rules for temperature in class B potions?” Hermione was finding the class interesting, but the potion was not behaving the way she expected it to. “Using a higher temperature for potions that have a larger content of insect than plant material usually means it will thicken early. I don’t understand why this is acting differently.”
Several of the other students seemed puzzled, but she had a feeling that they were puzzled by her question, rather than by the potion.
Professor Snape raised an eyebrow. “You are correct, Miss Granger, but the Asian Long-Horned Beetle is one of several types of insect that defy the rule and create a specific sub-group of the class B potions. It is not necessary to understand this for N.E.W.T. level, but if you wish to understand the reasons for it you may stay behind at the end of the class.”
Hermione’s partner, Harriett, gave her an amused smile, then looked at Snape. “You mean we don’t all get to hear this new complicated knowledge that won’t help us in our exams?” she joked.
Snape smirked. “You are welcome to stay behind to learn more, too, Miss Merrills,” he commented. “I wouldn’t want you to feel left out.”
Harriett pretended to consider. “On second thoughts, no thanks, Professor. I think it’s knowledge I can live without.”
There was a murmur of laughter in the room and Hermione smiled. It was such a change from the beginning of the year, and he was so different from how he had ever been before. He was still stoic and strict, but he had built a rapport with his students more quickly than she would have thought possible.
As the class began to pack up at the end of the lesson, Professor Snape pulled an old book from a shelf behind his desk and brought it to her.
"This chapter should explain why this potion is an exception," he told her. "Many early potions books list the potions which break the rule, but it was not until 1923 that Alfred Pilkington proposed his theory as to why they behaved differently. Until then, the exceptions were believed to be random anomalies."
The rest of the class had, by now, left the classroom.
"Could I borrow this book, please?" she asked, and he nodded with a small smile.
"And perhaps Miss Merrills would like to read it after you," he suggested, making her laugh.
"It’s good to see things going better for you with the students," she said. "You're even joking with them."
"It has been hard to change my attitude in the classroom, but I am glad I made the effort. When Voldemort fell, the first time, Dumbledore practically forced me to continue teaching. I hated and resented everyone and everything, and I took it out on the students. Old habits die hard.”
Hermione was still perched on her high stool, and Snape leaned against the bench in front of hers, looking relaxed, despite the seriousness of his comments.
“Didn’t you ever enjoy teaching?”
“I did, in fact. It took me a few years to realize it, but I actually enjoyed teaching the few students who wanted to learn. Then Potter showed up at the school, and I was right back to hating it again.”
“You hid it so well!” Hermione commented with a smirk.
“Now that Voldemort is gone and I’m not being forced into a double role, I am enjoying teaching more than I ever thought I would.”
“I suppose the fact that Harry didn’t return adds to that enjoyment,” Hermione laughed.
“I can’t say that I’m saddened by his absence, no. But at least I have learned to tolerate one of the Golden Trio!”
He smiled at her and their eyes held for a moment before Hermione looked away, nervous that her feelings would be too easily read on her face.
After a moment, Snape coughed and stood a little straighter.
“Speaking of the Golden Trio and their many adventures,” he said, “what, in Merlin’s name, is a disco ball?”
Hermione was caught off guard for a moment, then raised her head and laughed heartily.
“That is what happens when Harry and Ron drink too much and start getting ridiculous.”
In her last letter to Snape, she had told him more about the things she, Ron and Harry were planning to take with them on their camping trip. She had met them in The Hog’s Head earlier in the week, and they had been adding to their list.
“It’s … well, it makes lights reflect around the room, like they’re flashing, and it makes it more fun to dance to.”
“Yes! Last time, we had a terrible radio, and Ron said we should take a better one this time, so we could listen to music, and then Harry said we needed a disco ball.”
“And the ‘fuzzy slippers’?”
“They were my idea - they’re funny and they keep my feet warm. I used to have some with cute little bunny ears!”
“I’m sorry I asked,” said Snape, shaking his head. “I had thought you were going camping in the summer.”
“Then why do you need a Christmas tree?”
Snape’s face was a mixture of amusement and confusion, but this question made Hermione’s thoughts turn to more serious memories.
“Last Christmas was pretty horrible,” she said, eventually. “We went to Goderick’s Hollow to find Harry’s old house. We saw the statue of him and his parents, and their grave. Then we met Bathilda Bagshot, or what was left of her.”
Snape stayed silent, waiting while she took a deep breath and continued.
“It was one of the worst things I’ve ever experienced,” she said, softly. “It was my first Christmas without my parents, we were tired and stressed and cold. Then we were faced with the snake and then Voldemort was there … and Harry’s wand was broken. It was all just horrible.
“So we decided that during our camping trip we should have a Christmas tree, decorations and presents. We’re hoping Ron’s mum will deliver a Christmas dinner for us, too.”
She managed a smile at this last part, and glanced up to see him gazing at her, sadly.
“What are your plans for this Christmas?”
“I’m going to stay with Harry at Grimmauld Place, but we’ll be at the Weasleys’ for Christmas day. I’m not looking forward to it, much. Things are gradually getting better, there, but Christmas is going to be hard without Fred. Poor Molly is still a wreck, and it’s going to be tough for George, however much of a brave face he manages to put on most of the time. Harry and I talked about staying away on Christmas day, but Arthur said they’d all really like us to be there. What about you?”
“I will be spending Christmas here. The school’s staff are the closest thing I have to a family. There are several of the teachers who always stay here for Christmas, as well as Poppy Pomfrey, who has forbidden me from leaving the castle anyway.”
Hermione smiled at him. “Maybe you’ll be able to make it as far as Hogsmeade with Professor Flitwick and Professor Williams.”
“That would be good,” he agreed. “Poppy has said that she thinks by Christmas I will be able to move out of the hospital wing and back into the dungeon. I have spent over six months in a hospital bed and would like to get back to my own. I have even had the house elves make sure that it is back in my old rooms. I am counting the days, and considering making myself such a troublesome patient that she considers banishing me much sooner.”
She laughed. “I wouldn’t push her, if I were you. I bet she can be quite fierce when her patients misbehave.”
Hermione looked down at the book Snape had loaned her, and began stowing the last of her things into her bag.
“I need to get going,” she told him. “I need to get some lunch, and then I have some work I want to get done before Charms this afternoon.”
Professor Snape raised an eyebrow. “Have you left your Charms homework until the last possible moment again, Miss Granger?” he demanded. “You really must learn to take your work more seriously!”
“I’ll try, Sir,” she said in mock contrition.
Hermione reached the door and looked back. They smiled at each other before she turned to head for the Great Hall.
~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~
Miss Hermione Granger
You are invited to
Professor Horace Slughorn’s annual Christmas Party,
to be held at 7 pm on the Eighteenth of December
in Professor Slughorn’s office
~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~