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Pride of Time

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A/N: I think I'm going to like Ao3 more than FFnet. It's so much easier to edit stuff! I'll finally be able to go back and fix all those typos with ease. Squee~

Anti-Litigation Charm: I do not own! *swishes wand in a complicated sort of way and ends up poking self in eye* Ouch!

Please Review!


Detention. That was the first thing that registered in Hermione's mind when Filch brought her down to Professor McGonagall's office where, she discovered, Severus was waiting for her. Their Disillusionment charms were removed, and they both stared at the floor—one sullen, one shamefaced—while they waited for judgement to be pronounced. One excuse after another flitted through Hermione's mind, but all of them sounded pitifully transparent. They had been caught sneaking around the castle over three hours after curfew, while still wearing their winter cloaks, though they had the notion to stash their hats and gloves in their bags before heading off towards their common rooms. There was no talking their way out of this one.

Professor McGonagall left the moment Hermione entered, no doubt to double-check the halls for any other co-conspirators, during which time Severus had nudged her to grab her attention.

"How did you get caught?" he hissed under his breath.

"Filch," she muttered. "You?"

His face contorted into a sneer. "Our dear Head Boy was out patrolling the dungeons."

Hermione grimaced as she realized exactly who he was talking about. Damnit, James!

McGonagall returned moments later, and shut the door behind her with a click of almost sordid finality.

"I would never have believed any of this from either of you. Mr. Potter and Mr. Filch both say they caught you running back to your dormitories. It is twelve o'clock in the morning, and you are still wearing winter cloaks and warming charms! Where have you been?"

Hermione swallowed, unsure of how to reply, but Severus's reply was prompt. "The library. We were reading outside on one of the balconies—"

"I received a Floo call from Ambrosius Flume earlier this evening, informing me that he thought he saw two students in Hogsmeade earlier," McGonagall interrupted tightly. "Do not insult my intelligence, Mr. Snape. We checked the dormitories to see who was unaccounted for, and when we realized it was you two, the library was the first place we checked. Neither of you were anywhere to be found. What were you two doing in Hogsmeade?"

Severus's mouth clicked shut, and he fell silent, though his expression turned stony and unyielding.

"I think I've got a fairly good idea of what happened here," McGonagall said, her voice laced with cold fury. Hermione had only ever seen her in such a state twice in her life—the first time was when they had nearly been killed taking down a mountain troll. The second time was after they had been caught sneaking Norbert up to the Astronomy tower and lacked a satisfactory explanation for their actions. "Neither of you returned to your common rooms, but instead decided to sneak out of the school and pay Hogsmeade an unsupervised visit. I fail to understand how two perfectly capable and intelligent young people could do something so decisively foolhardy!"

Hermione gulped, and stared down at the ground, unable to look her professor in the eye. Severus was stone still, unmoving, as though he had been petrified into place.

"There is no excuse for this sort of behavior—you two may be of age, but while you are at Hogwarts, you will abide by the rules of this school just like every other student." Her lips pressed into a tight, white line and she took a moment to gather herself, before she continued icily, "A hundred points will be taken away from Slytherin and Gryffindor. And you will serve a month's detention, the both of you."

Hermione and Severus both stiffened, their backs ramrod straight. Hermione tried to quickly do the calculations in her head. Professor McGonagall had taken fifty points away from each Gryffindor involved in her first year due to the Astronomy incident, but they had still been on the grounds. Hermione and Severus had been caught sneaking out after curfew and, furthermore, had left the school grounds. An extra fifty points for that additional infraction was a horrorific one when she considered the impact it would have on the House Cup, but she could see how Professor McGonagall would find it a reasonable calculation. She knew better than to argue on this one. In fact, if McGonagall ever found out that they had not only gone to Hogsmeade, but to Diagon Alley, she wouldn't need to wonder if it would be another fifty points off just for that.

She felt her stomach drop at this. Severus didn't say a word. He, too, seemed to realize that arguing right now would garner no gain. They were both silent.

"Off to bed, both of you. Mr. Snape, I will inform Professor Slughorn of tonight's events, make no mistake. Miss Granger, a word before you go."

Severus gave Professor McGonagall a sardonic bow, working out a tic in his jaw before turning around to leave, Filch straight at his heels. The door opened and shut behind them, and Professor McGonagall took several deep breaths, her nostrils flaring angrily, before she spoke again.

"Miss Granger, I expected far better behavior from you. Albus always speaks highly of you, and I have watched your short academic career here at Hogwarts with interest. You are an exceptionally bright student, and I have only ever seen you break the rules either in self-defense or in the defense of another student. Your behavior and callous disregard for the rules could have cost you your lives tonight, if you had run into trouble. You-Know-Who is out there, Miss Granger—you are one of the few students at Hogwarts that are more keenly aware of this fact. Yet, you chose to ignore that tonight. The question I must ask is why?"

Hermione swallowed again, working her throat before she croaked, "I—I don't have a good answer for that, Professor."

"I can hardly conceive that this little escapade may have been your idea."

Hermione's throat tightened. Now was the moment when she either took the blame, remained silent and let McGonagall draw her own conclusions, or revealed Severus as the guilty party.

"It was my idea, Professor," she mumbled. Seeing the disbelieving look on Professor McGonagall's face, she added a bit more defiance into her tone. "It was entirely my idea. All of it. I take full responsibility."

Professor McGonagall gave her a piercing stare, and then stood up and opened the door for her. Hermione saw James standing against the wall, dozing off on his feet, and he jerked upright upon hearing the creaking of the door. His eyes met Hermione's, and she in turn stared at the ground.

"I have nothing more to say to you, Miss Granger, other than to tell you how entirely disappointed I am by your behavior," she said coldly. "You may go. Take Mr. Potter with you."

Without another word, she shut the door behind her. Hermione began walking back to Gryffindor Tower, with James in tow.

"Blimey, Hermione!" James said, adjusting his glasses. "What were you doing in there?"

"Got caught by Filch," Hermione mumbled, shamefaced.

"You've been missing from Gryffindor all night! You weren't even in the library—rumor has it that you snuck out to Hogsmeade—where were you?"

Hermione's mind immediately flew back to tonight's visit to Diagon Alley. The memory of cold snowflakes melting on her cheeks, ice cream melting on her tongue, owl feathers fluttering around them like soft down, and her taking the last scrape of her ice cream and holding it out to Severus…

"Hogsmeade," she confessed dully.

James stared at her. "You're joking." Seeing that the look on Hermione's face didn't change one whit, it suddenly dawned on him. "Merlin's saggy undershorts, you're serious."

Hermione nodded miserably.

"With that greasy git?" she didn't even have the energy to tell him off for insulting Severus, she just nodded. "Holy mother of Merlin. How many points did you guys lose?"

"A hundred," Hermione replied. "Each."

James was gobsmacked. They had just about reached the portrait of the Fat Lady now, and James took hold of Hermione's shoulder and turned her around to get her full attention.

"What were you two doing in Hogsmeade?"

Hermione swallowed, trying to get rid of the vicious frog that seemed to have taken up residence in her throat.

"Celebrating," she said tightly. Seeing the blank look on James's face, she finished, "Today's his birthday."

She woke up the Fat Lady, gave the disgruntled portrait the password, and then ambled off to bed. She no longer felt carefree and alive, simply tired and miserable as she climbed the stairs to the girls' dormitory and resigned herself to what was certain to be a rather disgruntled reaction from her housemates in the morning.

As it turned out, 'disgruntled' did not cover it. Not by a long shot.

"You lost a hundred points from Gryffindor?" Sirius bellowed, preventing her from leaving the common room for breakfast. James had clearly filled him in on last night, for there was simply no way he could have already seen the hourglass that morning. "What'd you do, murder someone?"

Hermione had been dreading this moment, but she knew she had to own up to it. "I—I snuck off the grounds and into Hogsmeade," she said, staring down at the carpet. "Filch caught me just as I was getting ready to wake up the Fat Lady."

The jaws of Sirius, Remus, Lily, Mary, and pretty much every Gryffindor in the vicinity dropped open at this. After a moment, Sirius shut his mouth, after managing to stutter out, "You snuck off the grounds? You? No way. That's not possible. You'd never do it, for one thing, and even if you were the type, you wouldn't know how—"

"Well, I did," Hermione said dully.

"I don't know whether to be impressed or angry," Sirius said, amazed. He looked dumbstruck. "It would have been worth the hundred point loss just to see you doing something worthy of it."

"Look at it this way," James said, clapping a hand on his friend's back. "Slytherin's down by about a hundred points, too. I took an extra fifteen when I caught him."

Remus was shaking his head, speechless. The other Gryffindors in the room demonstrated mixed reactions; the ones who knew Hermione well were flat-out shocked. The ones who didn't were either upset at the point loss or gleeful that Slytherin had suffered too. Others still looked as though they were not quite sure what to think.

"Well," Mary said, trying to break the tension. "I guess—I guess we had all better get down to breakfast?"

There was a sudden clamoring as the students rushed to be the first into the Great Hall. Hermione made to follow, her expression stony and shame-faced, but Sirius and James both grabbed hold of her arms.

"Don't worry about it," Sirius told her, giving her a slap on the back. "James and I've lost more points than that in a single night. And this time, Slytherin's lost points too. We'll build the points back up again—we're not even halfway through the year. We've got plenty of time."

Hermione gave him a weak smile. "Thanks, you guys."

"Just tell me this—was it worth it?"

Hermione was baffled by the question. "What?"

"Whatever your reason for sneaking out was—was it worth it?"

Hermione was once again recalled to the near-magical experience of last night. The release of pent-up tension, the moment when they'd managed to get out from under the house-rivalry that so choked the social situation at Hogwarts and simply enjoy being two teenagers out for a night. The ice cream, the owls, the snow, the laughing and joking they'd shared, the careless, free feeling that had enveloped her senses…

She must have gotten a faraway look in her eyes, for Sirius grinned at her and before she could speak, placed a fingertip on her mouth to silence her.

"If it was worth it, then that's all that matters," he said sagely.

Hermione took in a deep breath, gave them both a nervous smile, and confessed to the only four people still left in the room, "It was Severus's birthday."

Remus finally cracked a smile, and shook his head. Sirius's jaw dropped open for a moment, and then he shut his mouth. James was grinning, ruffling the back of his hair as he did so. Lily's face was a cortortion of surprise mixed with sudden rememberance and then stony realization.

"Well, as long as it was worth it to you, and you work to earn back the points, no one should have a problem with it," Remus said, patting her back and giving her a friendly smile. "We're all used to it by now." He cast his friends a half-hearted, scolding look. "That's what happens when you've lived with James and Sirius as your housemates for seven years."

The two boys had the grace to at least look slightly abashed.

Later, as she took her place next to the Marauders at the breakfast table, an owl fluttered down to her seat, bearing a note. It looked as though it had been waiting for quite awhile, as it wore an annoyed expression on her face. It kicked over her pumpkin juice before leaving, for good measure. Hermione cleaned up the mess with a sigh, and then unfolded the parchment. Glancing over at the Slytherin table, she saw that Severus was also opening up a similar slip of parchment under the watchful glares of his housemates, though he gave off the very convincing appearance of ignoring them.

It was from Professor McGonagall: You will serve your first week of detention with Mr. Filch. Meet him at the Entrance Hall at ten o'clock, starting this evening.

Hermione finished her breakfast quickly, and hurried off to her first class. Despite the Marauders' reassurances, she was feeling rather subdued, and only raised her hand to answer a question she knew would earn points for correctness. In class that day, she worked like an automaton; put in a set amount of energy, achieve result, earn points. By the end of the day, she'd received her usual thirty points from Faulkner, managed to squeeze ten from Sprout and Flitwich each, impressed a full fifteen from Slughorn, and somehow won five from Vector. No matter how hard she worked, however, she only managed to earn a terse 'Five points to Gryffindor' from McGonagall. It was still not enough to make up for the hundred-point deficiet, but it was an excellent start, and when she looked up at the hourglass, it seemed that her housemates had all pitched in to do some extra work, too, for they had jumped from third place in the running for the house cup and up to second, almost tied with Ravenclaw. It was heartening to see that her housemates were not particularly outraged by the point loss, as they had been in her first year. Instead, they were rather simply amazed that it had even happened and were willing to forgive her so long as she worked to make up for it. It was a distinct, notable difference; rather than being ostracized for her wrongdoing, she was instead being told that as long as she pulled her weight, all would be forgiven.

It was such a drastically different outlook than the one Hermione was used to in her time. It seemed that in the Marauders' era, Gryffindor House stuck together through thick and thin, uncaring of whether one of them blundered horribly. The message was clear: work hard to make up for it, and even if you fall short of making it up in the first day, everyone will still support and be happy to have you in Gryffindor. Hermione was certain that if she'd lost those hundred points and had slacked off or acted as though she couldn't care less about the points, her housemates would have been less forgiving. And yet, since Hermione was a hard worker by nature, and generally not prone to trouble, it seemed as though she had been fully forgiven not ten minutes into breakfast. She gratefully took advantage of this outlook, and did her absolute best to make up for the point loss she had caused.

She didn't know how Severus was faring. She somewhat doubted that Slytherin house had a similarly forgiving outlook. Or perhaps, at this juncture in time, the upperclassmen didn't care about points so much as they cared about their servitude to Voldemort. She didn't know, and while classes were in session, she didn't get a chance to ask him; everywhere she saw him, he was flanked by several Slytherins whose faces Hermione was disturbingly familiar with. Bellatrix Black, it seemed, took particular pleasure out of jeering something into his ear, and then turning to look at Hermione with a nasty, cruel smile.

Once classes were over, and after Hermione retired to Gryffindor Tower to get some work done before detention—she knew there was no way Severus would be in the Library tonight—Lily took Hermione aside.

"Did I hear you right? You went to Hogsmeade with Sev?"

Hermione could not help but feel a pang of anger at this. Lily had ended her friendship with Severus, made it clear that she would never forgive him for his slip-up, nor would she ever be willing to come to agreeable terms with him again, and yet she still called him by that childhood nickname as though they were best friends. It seemed insultingly incongruous.

"Yes," Hermione replied, her tone somewhat sullen.

"You shouldn't have done that, Hermione," Lily told her softly. "I know you and Sev are friends, but you shouldn't have let him talk you into going. He's a bad influence on you."

Hermione felt her blood boil ever so slightly at this. "How do you know it was his idea and not mine?"

Lily threw back her hair with a sigh. "Because yesterday was his birthday, and you've never been much inclined to rulebreaking. It's not difficult for me to put two and two together. What you did last night was dangerous and foolish."

"So I've been told," Hermione responded dryly. "I've already learned my lesson. I don't plan on doing something so risky without a very good reason again."

"I just don't think you should be spending so much time with him," Lily said uncertainly. "He's a part of a gang of Slytherins who go out of their way to attack Muggle-borns, and he can be quite nasty when things don't go his way. I'm just worried about you—you spend so much time with him, I'm afraid that when he leaves that you'll be… I'm afraid that you'll get hurt."

Hermione took a deep breath, and when she spoke, her voice came out gentle but firm. "I can take care of myself, Lily."

Lily closed her eyes for a moment, as though remembering something, and then opened them.

"Sev isn't the same person I knew when we were children," she said quietly. "He used to be sweet. Those boys in Slytherin House ruined him."

Hermione looked Lily squarely in the eyes. "You let it happen, Lily. You can't control what house Severus is in, but you can control how you treat him and how you choose to shape him outside of his house's influence. And my understanding is that when you decided you couldn't handle him anymore, you ended the friendship. And Lily, I do respect that you've ended things with him," she continued, her voice quiet, "but I can handle him. Perhaps you decided there was no point in hanging onto him because you thought he was too far gone, but deep down, he is a good person. Not always pleasant, not by a long shot, but his heart is in the right place. We understand each other well enough, and I value his friendship."

Lily was silent for one long, stony moment, and then she responded:

"When we were fifteen," she said softly, "Severus convinced me to sneak up to the Astronomy Tower to watch a meteor shower with him. We almost got caught. Sirius, James, Remus, and Peter—they all told me he was no good for me, but like the fool I was, I didn't listen to them. I was barely on speaking terms with them. A month and a half later, he called me a Mudblood, and I finally saw in him what everyone else did—and I ended the friendship. James was the one who came in to pick up the pieces. I was blind to Severus's faults, and I think you are too."

"He can be nasty, sarcastic, acerbic, caustic, and a git," Hermione said, enunciating each world carefully. "I'm not blind to his faults, Lily. I know very well that he has a temper, and that he can let it get away from him. But that doesn't stop me from seeing the good in him, too. That," she said firmly, "is why he's my friend."

Lily pursed her lips, and Hermione saw the anger rise in her cheeks, and she abruptly turned away.

"On your own head be it, Hermione, but I am certain that you will regret the day you ever laid your eyes on that boy."

As Lily left, Hermione couldn't help thinking that at this point, Severus really was not a boy anymore. She rather had the idea that Lily was still stuck seeing Severus as her childhood friend who got pulled along the wrong path, and was therefore unable to see past the prejudice clouding her opinion of him. She also suspected that, in a way, Lily would always see Severus as she saw him when they were children. In her eyes, Severus would never grow up.

And in some ways, Hermione was just the opposite. In her eyes, she already saw Severus grown up, aged beyond his years, aged far more than time had any right to make him.

She would also like to think that somewhere in her time, when Professor Snape sat at his desk grading papers and brooding sullenly, that he would have that memory of them in Diagon Alley at night eating Fortescue's Ice Cream and watching owls for his birthday to momentarily distract him.

Hermione left Gryffindor Tower an hour later to meet Filch in the Entrance Hall.

~o~O~o~

Hermione and Severus found themselves in the Trophy Room, with a rag and cleaning solution, polishing the plaques and plates and every other form awarded metals came in. Filch sat in the corner on a chair, petting Mrs. Norris and keeping his eyes locked suspiciously on the pair.

Despite the no-magic caveat, Severus still managed to cast a discrete Muffliato so that he and Hermione could talk undisturbed. They had absolutely nothing else to do but the mind-numbing work of polishing cups and shields, and when they had tried talking without the charm, Filch had snarled at them to be quiet.

"This isn't social hour!" the old caretaker had growled.

Severus had rolled his eyes and cast the charm regardless.

"So," he said coolly, "how did Gryffindor take the point loss?"

"Surprisingly well, actually," Hermione said, her rag making squeaking noises as she wiped it over a small cup. "They're apparently so used to James and Sirius losing points that they don't really mind it now."

Severus snorted. "It figures."

"What about your housemates in Slytherin?"

A small, wry smirk flitted across his face. "They were absolutely furious."

"That doesn't sound like laughing matter to me," Hermione said uncertainly.

"Oh, but it is. They wanted to know exactly what I was doing in Hogsmeade—and with you, no less—and I refused to tell them. It drove them mad," Severus added, a nasty glint in his eyes. "And there is absolutely nothing they can do about it. They all know I'm stronger than the lot of them put together."

"Really?" Hermione said, raising an eyebrow. "You?"

"You don't believe me?"

"You're a strong wizard, yes, but to boast about being capable of taking them all on at once when the Marauders have been able to send you to the Hospital Wing with just two or three of them…"

At this, Severus sneered. "That has only ever happened after they hexed me when my back was turned. But I can take them on in a fair fight." He set the cup he'd been polishing down with a little more force than necessary, and picked up the next one. "If you were to line them up against me in a duel, I'd have them cursed into writhing pieces on the floor."

Hermione nodded thoughtfully, her lip twitching at the description he used, but agreeing nevertheless. His assertion seemed accurate enough. "Yes, that sounds about right, I suppose."

Severus looked somewhat mollified at her capitulation.

"So your housemates daren't challenge you to a fight, because they know you'd mop the floor with them?" Hermione ventured, returning to the previous topic at hand. "I'm a little surprised—I would have thought they'd at least give it a try."

"They have before," Severus responded smugly. "I sent them all up to the Hospital Wing."

Hermione's eyebrows rose dangerously. "How did they react to that?"

"Avery made it clear I was welcome to join his group," Severus responded coolly. "None of them bothered me after that, much."

Hermione felt as though she had suddenly garnered a little more insight on how things worked in Slytherin—and how Severus fit into all of this. At this moment in time, her understanding had crystalized into clarity. He would have been ostracized and picked on for his friendship with a Muggleborn like Lily, as well as his poor background— and when confronted by his housemates, he would have wiped the floor with them in an attempt to discourage further attempts. After that, the Slytherins' attention would have turned from trying to keep their distance from him to trying to control him. It was startlingly clear and disturbing at the same time. He had gone from being looked down upon to being respected with his display of power— which came with a heavy price. A display of strength like the one she knew Severus was capable of would have caught the Dark Lord's attention.

"You know," Severus mused, dragging Hermione out of her thoughts, "I have never seen you duel."

"You saw me the day we met, remember?" Hermione reminded him, as she set her plaque aside and plucked up another.

"I saw what you'd done, not how you fought," Severus replied coolly.

"True enough," Hermione conceded.

"And I've seen what you've done to my other housemates subsequently. And you know Occlumency," he continued, as though she needed reminding. He gave her a curious glance, and Hermione could tell he was just dying to see what was going on in her head. "Just how strong are you?"

Hermione gave him a mysterious smile. "I'm just an insufferable, bushy-haired know-it-all," she said, grinning. "What do you expect?"

"I expect you're just like me," Severus responded, cocking his head at her. "Neither of us are the most handsome nor the most pecuniary people around, but we more than make up for it with raw magical talent."

"I can look nice when I want to," Hermione protested half-jokingly, running her fingers through her hair and then throwing it back over her shoulders. Her hair was neither sleek nor shiny, but it was all right. It had gotten somewhat more manageable as she grew older, but it had not lost its inherent bushiness. It still tended to frizz rather frighteningly when she was angry.

He raised his eyebrows at her, his voice teasing. "Really? You could have fooled me."

Hermione raised her chin up at him in mock-offense. "I'll have you know—"

Whatever she was about to say was suddenly interrupted by the craggy old caretaker's voice cutting through the room.

"Don't think I can't see your lips moving, you little buggers! Get back to work!"

With a sigh, Hermione bent her head back down over her work. Severus did the same. They continued to make conversation, moving their lips as little as possible, until Filch again threatened to extend their detention if they continued talking. With a sigh of resignation, they eventually fell into silence.

They were finally dismissed two hours later, their backs and necks terribly sore, and not one bit sorry.

~o~O~o~

Hermione and Severus's month-long detention varied in venue from week to week. The first week was spent cleaning up places in the castle, starting with the Trophy Room and ending with the dusting of the library shelves. The second week involved them helping Madam Pince organize and return books to their proper places; this had been a particularly trying week, as the librarian resembled nothing so much as a vulture waiting to swoop down and smack them over the head for a misplaced book or for getting distracted by reading. By the third week, Hermione and Severus were quite fed up with detention, but their punishment was not yet over—they spent the third portion of their detention scrubbing the underside of the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom's desks, which had been a rather unpleasant task, given the nasty sort of things that had ended up stuck in the nooks and crevaces of the wood. Hermione had found the dried and gutted remains of a toad stuck underneath one desk, and had been forced to extract it by hand.

It was not a total loss, though; Severus found several knuts, two sickles, and a single Galleon stuck in one desk, which he eagerly pocketed. Hermione found an old copy of Jane Eyre, and managed to hide behind the desk she was supposed to be cleaning to read. Half-way through the book, she was forced to hastily put it away before Faulkner, who was supervising this detention, caught her. The man had eyes like an eagle, and when Hermione quickly stood up to turn the desk over to the other side, he gave a tiny jerk of his head, as though he knew what she had been doing. In all likelyhood, he probably did. They found a myriad of odd trinkets, and after each detention that week, they would meet up a few corridors down to trade and switch the stuff they didn't want. Anything they didn't care for and couldn't trade away was promptly thrown away—as was the case with a pair of screaming socks and a piece of gum that bubbled noxiously.

Their last week of detention was spent brewing potions for Slughorn, which was probably their best detention yet, as it was quite easy and even somewhat relaxing. They set up ten cauldrons on the same table, and took turns doing steps. Hermione spent a surprising amount of time with Severus standing over her shoulder, giving her instructions differing from the text and showing her better methods for preparing ingredients. He was rather pleased with how quickly she grasped onto a new technique, although she occasionally took a little longer to do so. Once or twice, he would grow impatient, and take her hand in his and demonstrate the movements using her fingers, which Hermione found extremely helpful—even if it made her slightly uneasy.

No. Uneasy was the wrong word. But she was at a loss as to what to call it: he would stand just behind her, towering over her by sheer height, and she would feel his warm breath crossing along the nape of her neck as he watched her work. It did not make her feel uneasy at all—rather, it made her feel safe. It set off a tingling sensation wherever he touched her. In this timeline, Severus was one of the people she trusted the most, and his presence was a comfort to her. It soothed her, put her at ease—and yet, it somehow made her even more aware of his presence, if that were possible.

Wednesday evening, a notice had gone up on all of the notice boards informing students that there would be a Valentine's Day celebration to be held on the fourteenth in Slughorn's office, courtesy of The Slug Club. Attendance by invitation only. There was no question about who James was going with, but Sirius finally worked up the courage during breakfast to saunter over to where Marlene McKinnon was sitting to ask her out.

The notice incited a flurry of excitement among the students. Members of the Slug Club who were not already taken had offers and requests to be taken along by the end of the day. To Hermione, it was like primary school all over again; the ones who were yet untaken were being passed chocolates, sweets, homework answers, and other sorts of bribes. She received no less than five chocolate frogs, two boxes of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, a packet of Fizzing Whizbees, some Chocoballs, and even a box of Sugar Quills from a shy third-year Gryffindor that Hermione felt incumbent to turn down. All before lunchtime.

Later, as she and Severus were in detention, he laughed near-uproariously when Hermione recounted the events of the day.

"You should have taken the quills, Hermione!" he said, smirking with amusement. "Then maybe you'd stop chewing on yours."

It was true; Hermione did chew on her quills. She chewed them down to stumps before she even realized what she had done.

"If I took it, I felt like I'd be obliged to at least consider the offer," Hermione said, pulling her hair back as she got to work on their brewing. "And I refuse to go just because someone had to bribe me into taking them. With sweets, no less."

"You're not going?" Severus inquired, looking mildly surprised.

"Of course not," Hermione huffed. "I haven't got anyone to go with, and I don't fancy standing around all night watching other people snogging."

Severus gave a non-committal grunt, and returned his focus back to his potions before pulling away and allowing Hermione to do the next few steps. She worked concentratedly for several minutes, moving from potion to potion to repeat each instruction, and then backed away and slumped in one of the stools. The potions all simmered peacefully, and would continue to do so for the next fifteen minutes. The two teens leaned back and waited.

"Well, I'm not going either, I suppose," Severus finally said, pulling out his copy of Advanced Potion-Making and pulling out a quill to make some additional annotations to it. "I haven't had a free evening for a month. My time could be better spent." He turned to look at Hermione thoughtfully. "You know, we could find an empty classroom and duel. I'd like to see how well you'd fare against me."

"That's not happening and you know it," Hermione told him sternly, peering over his shoulder as he flipped through the pages of his book.

"We'll see," he responded smugly, stopping at an undefiled page to pull out a quill and begin scribbling.

~o~O~o~

"I can't believe you're not going!" Alice exclaimed on Friday afternoon, after she had roped Hermione into a secretive girls-only discussion about the upcoming Valentine's Day Slug-Club supper with Mary, Marlene, and Lily. "This is a perfect chance to dress up!"

"I haven't got anyone to go with," Hermione replied reasonably. "What's the point?"

"The point? Hermione, the whole point is to make every wizard in the room's eyes bug out of their skull—regardless of whether you've got a damn date or not!"

"Well, I haven't got anything to wear," Hermione protested, her mouth twitching into a half-smile. "So even if I could go—what would be the point?"

"We have a Hogsmeade Weekend tomorrow," Mary suggested mildly.

"I'm banned from Hogsmeade for the rest of the year," Hermione said with a sigh. "Like Severus."

She saw Lily's lips twitch slightly at this, and Alice overrode her protests once again: "We can pick out something for you to wear!"

"You should try something in red," Marlene said, leaning back and looking at her thoughtfully. "Something tasteful and red. And you could put your hair up."

"Look," Lily said, interrupting Hermione's next protest. She gave Hermione a certain look that said 'don't argue with me.' "It doesn't matter whether you have a date or not. We can get you something to wear if you can give us a budget, and half the wizards going had to bribe their dates to take them. They're not taken."

Mary, Marlene, and Alice were all nodding in agreement at this.

Hermione could see quite plainly that she was horribly outnumbered on this.

"Oh, you know what?" Marlene added, leaning forward to pick out a lock of Hermione's hair. "We can show you some new charms. You pick up new spells like a toadstool does water—let's see if we can't do something about your hair."

She tried one more line of defense. "I don't want to go alone—"

"You can go with Remus," Lily interrupted, giving her a smile that Hermione thought was simply unforgivable in regards to the amount of smugness that laced it. "I'm sure he'll take you."

I'm doomed, Hermione thought inwardly as the four girls began to eagerly exchange ideas and spells to use on themselves, each other, and their bushy-haired victim.

When she saw Severus later that evening for their last detention and informed her that she was being forcefully dragged along to the supper, he couldn't help smirking in amusement at this.

"In that case, perhaps I should come," he drawled.

"I can't believe this," Hermione said, glaring at him. "I swear, I think Lily just tried to set me up with Remus."

Severus's mouth gave an unpleasant twitch. "Please tell me you said no."

Hermione stared up at the ceiling. "They made me ask. He said yes."

"Bloody hell."

"He's not a part of the Slug Club," Hermione pointed out reasonably. "I'm just bringing him along so that he can attend with his friends."

"Lovely. Well, I at least hope seeing what sort of disaster your housemates can turn you into will be worth it," Severus responded snarkily.

Hermione rolled her eyes. "If you can't stand being in the same room with them for a few hours, you're free to make your escape."

"Slughorn doesn't allow escapes," Severus responded sourly.

"I'll help you," Hermione said, giving him a conspiratorial smile.

"Deal."


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~Anubis Ankh