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Chapter 6 : The New Student
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The worst that may befall me in this case”
-Hermia, A Midsummer Night's Dream
Chapter 6: The New Student
Hermione was in a daze. The hat’s pronouncement echoed in her ears like a bad dream played back on a scratched record. Her sense of decorum won out—after all, she didn’t want to draw undue attention to herself—and she slipped from the tiny stool and made her way across the Great Hall to her new table. The steps were unfamiliar, and she caught herself wondering if she’d ever even walked on this part of the floor before.
As she moved past the other Slytherins, aiming for a seat at the far end of the table, she was struck by the difference between their behavior and the Gryffindors. Even with twenty years’ worth of difference, it looked like the attitudes were the same. Hardly any of her new housemates met her eyes; no one cheered or welcomed her. Across the hall, she could see the Gryffindors proudly toasting their new members. It was a profound contrast.
A discreet cough interrupted her train of thought, and Hermione looked for the source, only to be greeted with a slightly familiar face. Professor—Severus, she thought uncomfortably—Snape had apparently been watching her as she took stock of her situation.
“Welcome to Slytherin,” he said deprecatingly. Well, that answers that question, she thought, at the sight of his sneer. Hogwarts students were not the reason he was so grouchy—or if they were, that meant all Hogwarts students, his classmates included. Well, there was one advantage. This version of Snape couldn’t take house points.
“Gee, thanks,” she said, her voice dripping sarcasm. For a split second, his sneer was replaced by a look of shock mixed with—grudging admiration? Hermione surmised that she was just imagining things. She sat down not far from her future professor and made a show of looking around at the other Slytherins. With the exception of (was that Lucius Malfoy?) a group of seventh years, most of the students at this table sat in knots of twos and threes, or singly. The space they left between and the low voices they were using both implied that trust was not a foregone conclusion when wearing green and silver. She made a mental note to bring something to do to every meal; Hermione was used to friendly activity in the Great Hall, as a Gryffindor, and she’d soon be bored stiff if she had just herself to talk to every meal. “Looks like I fit right in,” she said finally, realizing she’d sat by herself with plenty of room to either side. Hermione almost missed Snape’s muttered, “You might, at that.”
Dumbledore stood and began to welcome them, his words causing a strange delight in her. During his speech a few months ago, not a few of her fellow seventh years had expressed their sadness that it was the last of such speeches they’d hear. Not only was the feast itself a comforting ritual for seven years, but Professor Dumbledore was completely unpredictable in a way that made each speech different, and a real treat, besides. The fact that she was now sitting through her eighth of such speeches made her smile, although she didn’t miss the irony of her whole situation: she’d figured she would never have the anxiety of being sorted again, either—and look how that had turned out. She shook her head and busied herself with examining the faces at the High Table.
McGonagall did look pretty much the same now as she would in the future, the same as Dumbledore. Hagrid was not, of course, sitting with them, and wouldn’t be for many years. She saw with surprise that Professor Slughorn was seated in the same place he would be in her time, and had to remind herself that she already knew he was the Potions professor during Harry’s parents’ time. She closed her eyes.
Don’t think about it! She chided herself for it, but, oh, she wanted to look for them so badly. Dumbledore may have trusted her to behave normally, but she didn’t trust herself; it was too much of a temptation to dash across the room and alternately hug them and talk with them. For one awful second, she wondered if Dumbledore had forced the hat to sort her to Slytherin to prevent anything from happening to violate the timeline, but she quashed that thought quickly. She had been the one to protest that she couldn’t possibly be allowed to meet or talk with anyone. The Headmaster had just waved away her protests in that enigmatic way of his, assuring her that there was a reason for everything…
Supper appeared before her (her mind supplied the phrase ‘like magic,’ causing her to valiantly suppress a giggle. Sometimes being Muggle-born made the Wizarding world amusing in ways that would take forever to explain to someone like Ron), and she was pleased to see that, Slytherin or Gryffindor, the feast was the same. Surveying her options, she spotted a plateful of her favorite biscuits—almond poppy seed. Without thinking, she politely asked Professor (Severus, she hissed to herself) Snape to pass them to her, luckily forcing herself to simply say ‘excuse me’ rather than use his name. He hadn’t introduced himself, after all. He just looked at her blankly, proceeding to fetch himself some of the chicken near her with a quick mutter of ‘Accio drumstick!’
Hermione was damned if she was going to allow herself to think that being a Slytherin meant one had to forgo the use of manners. She purposefully avoided the dark-haired young man’s gaze, stood up, and fetched the plate of biscuits by hand. She didn’t have to look at him to feel his smirk.
“You won’t last long in Slytherin if you can’t get what you want, Miss James,” he said derisively. Snape probably thought that knowing her name without revealing his gave him an advantage. Little did he know.
“I did get what I wanted,” she said coolly, gesturing to the sweets on her plate.
“I meant without making a spectacle of yourself.”
“Perhaps the cookies and the attention were only part of the object,” she said, managing to contain the anger he seemed to be trying to bait her into. Maybe I was trying to goad you into underestimating me. She stopped herself from saying it aloud at the very last second, realizing with a new insight that tipping her hand like that was a very Gryffindor thing to do, and decidedly not Slytherin. Compared to Snape, she was pitifully outmatched, however.
“It’s a start,” he said, his tone designed to convey to her just what kind of a start it was. “Although if you want to imply hidden depths to your personality in the future, you’ll need to attempt to keep them hidden.” With a superior smile, he resumed his meal, shooting a final “Welcome to Slytherin,” at her without looking up. It was a petty ending to his diatribe, reminding Hermione that this version of Snape wasn’t completely grown up, yet. This knowledge made her bold, simultaneously reminding her that she really was a Gryffindor, but that simulating Slytherin thinking might just be fun.
“Thank you, Severus,” she said, knowing instinctively that this informality—and her unexplained knowledge of his first name—would be nearly intolerable to him. She didn’t even deign to look for his reaction, but the clatter of his dropped fork told her all she needed to know.
When they’d all finished eating, and the usual announcements and such were completed, Dumbledore caught her eye and indicated that he wanted to speak to her. Her first impulse was to ignore it; she didn’t want to give her new classmates the impression that she was unhappy. The more she thought about it, however, the more she tried to view her situation in a Slytherin frame of mind. A private chat with the Headmaster directly following the Welcome Feast would give the impression that she was quite important, in Slytherin thinking, and not that she was protesting her placement there. From what she’d seen so far from Snape, and her observations over her previous six years, no Slytherin would ever pass up an opportunity to show off how important they were. She nodded at Dumbledore.
Hermione made sure to completely ignore Snape as the prefects called to the first years and the Great Hall started to empty. She was glad of the decision a moment later as she caught herself searching frantically for her bag of books and parchment. Gathering up a heavy bag of schoolwork to take with her after every meal had become such a routine that she hadn’t even realized it was a habit until she didn’t have anything to gather up. Desperately searching for something that wasn’t there would certainly tip the scales back to his favor, in their unacknowledged battle of wits.
“Hello, Professor,” she said politely, unconsciously drawing herself up proudly as she stood before the Headmaster. The last few stragglers from the feast exited behind them, having run out of reasons to stay and stare at the new student.
“Ahh, Miss James—I believe there are some still some possessions of yours in my office,” said Dumbledore, equally politely. She had a sneaking suspicion he was mocking her, but if he was, it was so subtle that she really couldn’t tell. The two of them retraced their steps through the myriad hallways of Hogwarts until they arrived at his office.
He surprised her by speaking the password aloud in front of her, and she was grateful for what the action implied—she now knew his password, and for however long it remained ‘Pecan Pasty,’ she would be able to come to him without having to bother any other student or teacher.
The crafty old wizard surprised her further when they’d reached the top of the stone staircase. A medium sized trunk sat in the middle of the floor, its lid open to reveal two piles of neatly stacked clothing—school robes—and a further delight—school books, parchment, quills, and ink. Hermione couldn’t conceal her happiness, and impulsively wrapped her arms around the dear old man, his beard tickling her nose as she did so. His arms came around her belatedly, and she wondered if she’d shocked him. She didn’t care.
“You really shouldn’t have,” she tried to protest, after she’d released Dumbledore and gone over to admire the packet of quills in the trunk.
“Nonsense,” he said genially, “you wish to blend in, do you not? You couldn’t do that very well if you had no school supplies, and only one outfit!” She nodded, torn between opening the packet of new parchment to feel its thickness and delving into the unfamiliar Charms textbook she spied in the lower corner of the trunk. A sudden wave of tiredness struck her, and as she yawned; it registered to her that with his gift, Professor Dumbledore really had taken a lot of the stress from her shoulders. She lifted her wand to shut the trunk and levitate it down to her new quarters—this thought sent a shiver of ice down her spine, for she had no clear idea of where the Slytherin dormitories even were—but the Headmaster raised his hand to stop her.
“Before you do that, let me—” he interrupted himself by raising his wand, and with a concise swish and flick, her school robes displayed a neat Slytherin patch.
“Th—thank you,” she stuttered, not quite meaning it. She had always liked green, but the connotations of wearing it, here at Hogwarts…
“Would you like to finish?” he asked, gesturing to the tidy pile of school ties, scarves, and socks in the top corner of the new trunk. She nodded and, focusing, she transfigured the black and white to silver and green, leaving a single scarf at the bottom of the pile unchanged. She missed the intense look her mentor was giving her as she did this, but he did not miss her omission—nor did he miss her softly muttered incantation as she closed the trunk lid, sealing her new supplies along with a single crimson and gold scarf buried inside.
When Hermione turned back to him, her face was carefully composed, but his look of concentration confused her. His next question did not, but she couldn’t quite explain herself—I’m sorry, sir, I know you say that the Sorting Hat is never wrong, but I know I’m not supposed to be in Slytherin—in a way that didn’t come off sounding petulant and childish to her own ears.
“Is there something else you need?”
“No, everything is—” she paused for a split second, “just fine.”
It looked as if Dumbledore might have said something else, but just then a jovial voice reached them from the bottom of the stairs.
“Dumbledore! Have you still got my new student?”
The voice was very familiar, and Hermione had just worked out who it was when Professor Slughorn finally made it to the top of the curving staircase, huffing slightly.
“Excellent feast, my man,” he said, patting his large belly and grinning. “Makes it a bit hard to manage the stairs right now, though!” Her new head of house smiled at her kindly, the smile broadening considerably when he saw that she already sported the Slytherin patch on her robes. “Efficient!” he complimented her as he levitated her trunk for their walk to the dungeons.
“Thank you, sir,” she said, heartened almost against her will by his pleasant behavior. Hermione didn’t count him among her favorite teachers, but he was good at what he did—and she couldn’t help but be glad that he was head of Slytherin house, rather than Snape. She expected to feel an inward shudder at the thought, but her future Professor’s name simply reminded her of their conversation earlier, which wasn’t a bad memory at all. In fact, she was…almost looking forward to more such encounters. Hermione never expected a chance to talk (argue, more like, she admitted) with the irascible Potions Master as an equal, but she found it very interesting.
“Ah, here we are,” Professor Slughorn was saying, and Hermione found to her dismay that not only had she been ignoring his idle chatter—not that he’d noticed—along the way to the dungeons, but she hadn’t paid a whit of attention to the route they’d taken to get there. All she knew was that they now stood before a large, forbidding looking suit of armor.
It was twice the normal size of the scattered plate mail guardians throughout the castle, and she’d have wondered if Hagrid could have felt comfortable in it, if it hadn’t had a splendid Slytherin coat of arms emblazoned on the chest piece. Slughorn was silent, and she began to feel nervous. She was sure he hadn’t asked her a question, but the longer they stood there unexpectedly, the more she began to fear that the password to the Slytherin section of the castle was no password at all. Perhaps it was some kind of test—she’d fail that, certainly, as a Muggle-born—or maybe Salazar Slytherin had imbued this suit of armor with personality, just like the founders had with the Sorting Hat. If that was the case, there was no question of why they still stood there—it would know she didn’t belong here.
“My apologies, Professor,” a voice came from behind them, slightly out of breath. It was a brown haired boy of medium height, and his Slytherin robes bore a familiar badge with a letter ‘P’ embossed on the surface. She expected him to give an explanation as to his lateness, but the young man merely turned to the huge knight guarding the common room entrance.
“Fax mentis incedium gloriae.”
The Slytherin prefect looked very pleased with himself as Professor Slughorn made a soft cry of approval on hearing the Latin phrase. Hermione did not know enough Latin to be able to make it out—‘gloriae’ meant ‘glory,’ she was pretty sure, but she would have to look up the rest.
“Thank you, Francis,” said Slughorn and, after making a face, the young man stepped into the space the silver suit of arms had vacated at the sound of the password. Hermione was glad she’d been repeating the phrase in her head to memorize it, for immediately after ‘Francis’ stepped past the Slytherin guardian, it moved back into place. She felt a sudden sinking dread, but the pudgy man next to her didn’t appear to see anything amiss.
“After you, young lady,” he said, gesturing that she go ahead of him.
“Fax mentis incedium gloriae,” she said, trying to approximate the same inflection as her predecessor. The battle axe was lowered from its threatening position near her head—apparently, Slytherins did not mess around when it came to their own security—and she heard the man behind her mutter ‘Splendid!’ as she stepped for the first time into the abode of the silver and green.
She had expected to see warm light and milling students, but instead she found she was in a dimly lit tunnel leading downwards. Hermione continued to chant the password in her head, knowing that it was probably worth more than her physical safety to write something like that down, even if their door guardian only let one person in at a time. The passageway snaked downward, curving slightly before leveling out, so she could glimpse the common room through the end of the tunnel before she reached it. She supposed that she should have been expecting this—Hogwarts, A History mentioned that the Slytherin dormitories were located beneath the lake, although a description of the rooms themselves was not included—but it was a shock, all the same.
The common room itself looked slightly smaller than its Gryffindor counterpart, but it felt larger. Belying the fact that they were underground, the ceiling of the room was much higher, sporting ornate silver hanging lamps that glowed slightly green. There was not a traditional fireplace; instead there was a recessed area in the center where a miniature bonfire burned almost merrily. The light from this was the only glow in the room that didn’t seem to give the greenish tint she had noticed when she walked in.
The furniture was definitely more ornate than she was used to, but it struck her that it was no more fancy than the Gryffindors’—in fact, they were very similar in design. When she looked around at the students clumped in small groups similar to their behavior at dinner, the differences began to make sense. The arrangement here was one of private, exclusive conversation, usually held at the edges of seats and leaning over parchment on desks, whereas in Gryffindor Tower, large groups of students lounged around on the couches and armchairs, often horsing around and changing the arrangements weekly. It was entirely possible that each common room was decorated with the same furniture—color changed to be appropriate, of course—however long ago, and the differences in them now was solely the result of how they’d been treated.
As a Gryffindor prefect in her own time, Hermione was completely certain that the crimson and gold versions were the most run-down of the four.
As she made her observations, she wasn’t completely oblivious to the fact that she was being observed in turn. It was incredibly interesting to see the varied reactions of the students—some were studiously ignoring her, others were staring at her quite rudely, and a few others simply looked her over curtly before going back to whatever they had been doing. It struck her how very different the feeling was from entering the Gryffindor common room. Here, she got the distinct impression that their scrutiny was more about themselves than her—and that they were judging each other on the reactions, as well. Hermione realized she wasn’t blushing, as she would have expected herself to be. The whole situation was akin to being an actress in a play, really, and though she wasn’t at all fond of performing, the intellectual exercise of it was incredibly stimulating. She wondered when it would wear off.
Probably sooner than she wanted.
It felt as though she had been standing at the mouth of the tunnel for ages, but Professor Slughorn only just then came up behind her, muttering happily under his breath as he entered the room. The reactions of the students was immediate on his entry as it had not been when she had come in. Most stopped speaking and looked up, the ones standing stood straighter, and some of the seated students stood, out of respect. Clearly, the Slytherins liked their head of house.
“Welcome, everyone,” he said gravely, a ghost of a smile crossing his face as he nodded to the cluster of first years. Hermione stood off to one side and watched avidly as the usually jovial Slughorn gave a somber and dignified welcome to the Slytherins of 1977. Her respect for the man grew with each word, for he did not pretend to ignore the growing danger, nor did he advise his students to take sides. She recalled Harry speaking of Slughorn’s reticence at returning to teach, and knew that he disapproved of Voldemort’s actions, past and present. He had to know the reputation of his house, as well—but his speech rode a careful line, expressing no opinion. Instead, he admonished his students to choose their paths wisely, both in academia and in their personal lives, always remembering the consequences of their actions. Privately, Hermione wondered if even Professor McGonagall had her students as well pegged as Slughorn knew his Slytherins. It was an eye-opening experience.
With the eyes and ears of the room occupied, Hermione began to examine the faces around her while still avidly listening to the portly gentleman at the front of the room. Wizarding fashion wasn’t as ever-changing as Muggle fashion, so it was really only the hairdos that gave a clue to the year—and even those weren’t as drastically different as she would have expected. At rest, the students didn’t appear to be any less friendly than any other students, and Hermione told herself she needed to shed her Gryffindor prejudice toward them as a house. The group of faces she examined next put that determination to the test immediately, however. Standing next to the prefect who had given them the password was a slender blonde boy who held himself so proudly that she was half-certain of who he was before he’d turned to look at her.
Lucius Malfoy looked her over insolently before raising a delicate eyebrow at her continued scrutiny. Feeling a rush of anger—wasn’t he looking at her, as well?—she drew herself up in a deliberate imitation of his posture and traced her gaze over him in a similar way. Instead of raising her own eyebrow in acknowledgement of his challenge, however, she turned away from him as though he were beneath her notice.
She hoped it had looked confident—inside, she was shaking like a leaf.
She could hear Professor Slughorn beginning to wrap up his speech as she resumed her examination of the room full of students. One of the last faces she looked at was another familiar one. Severus Snape’s eyes were already on her, and when their eyes met, he surprised her by inclining his head slightly, as if to say he’d seen her encounter with Malfoy, and it was worthy of respect.
Maybe this wasn’t the end of the world, after all.
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