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Return to Prince Manor by Snapegirl
Chapter 26 : The Bookworm's Obsession
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 12


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chapter dedicated to Janie Lucy, who asked me for it, and was very patient while I wrote it.

Hermione hurried through her usual breakfast of juice, toast, a poached egg, a banana, and two strips of bacon. She, unlike many of her classmates, tried to eat balanced meals when she could. But today she did not linger over her food, eating swiftly, for she wished to speak to Sarai about her house elf campaign before the warrior departed Hogwarts to return to her monarch. Hermione greatly admired the half-fae warrior for having the courage to stand up for her beliefs and to marry the man she loved despite the fact that they came from two different worlds. Much like she and Draco did. She sighed as she pushed back her chair, ignoring the questioning looks of her tablemates. She knew she had been neglecting Draco lately, but she hoped he could understand why. Her schoolwork had to come first. She had to make top grades in order to prove to her parents and her peers that she truly did belong at Hogwarts. She knew that many purebloods in all the Houses sneered at the Headmaster's policy of giving Muggleborns equal status, and because of that she knew she couldn't afford to be "mediocre". She had to outperform all of them to prove herself, and she also loved a challenge, and so many classes were not challenging enough for her.

But she pushed all of that to the back of her mind and hurried up to the staff table, waiting quietly until Professor Snape looked up from his morning coffee and said, "Miss Granger, is there a problem?"

"No, Professor Snape. I was just wondering if I could speak to Lady Sarai for a few minutes?"

He raised an eyebrow. "You hardly need to ask my permission. Be my guest."

Sarai set down her spoon, she was finished with her cinnamon porridge, and rose gracefully to her feet. Hermione had never seen the woman look anything less than graceful, and it made her feel awkward sometimes. "How may I help you, Hermione?"

"Uh, could we speak in private? Like over there near the fireplace?" she pointed to a spot next to the hearth behind the staff table.

"Certainly, child," Sarai agreed and followed the witch. She was dressed in her customary forest green tunic and leggings, her sword resting easily on her hip, for outside the Seelie Court, a warrior never went unarmed, though the sword was only her most visible weapon. She was also a spellcaster of no small talent as were all of Titania's private guard, and also a kin-sa-dor master as well. "Now, young one, what would you have of me?"

Hermione shifted slightly, a bit in awe of getting the warrior's attention, but now that she had it, she did not want to waste her chance. "Draco and Harry told me a little about the Seelie Court. They said that you don't make slaves of house elves."

"That is so. Low Court and High, we co-exist in peace, though one may serve the other." Sarai replied. "Those you term house elves, we call brownies, because they tend to prefer brown clothing and have shades of brown skin normally."

"They do? Dobby, a friend of mine, doesn't."

"Ask him what skin color he was born with," Sarai told her. "Most wizards who trade in house elves change the skin color of the elf to compliment themselves."

Hermione looked sickened. "But that's terrible!"

"Yes. As terrible as binding a fae creature to them for their lifespan and their childrens'." The Guard Captain said darkly.

"That's what I wanted to talk to you about, my lady. I want to know how to end it," Hermione began passionately, her brown eyes glowing. "I think it's dreadful and we ought to do away with it. Only when I've tried to bring up the subjects to other wizards and witches, even in Gryffindor, even with my friends, they all think I'm cracked. They tell me that the elves like serving wizards and are happy to be bound to a family or even here at the school. They say that even if they were given their freedom, they wouldn't know what to do with it."

Sarai frowned. "Such are the rational of those who have become accustomed to holding another in bondage. Such an attitude is nothing new, not when you mortals have enslaved your own kind for centuries and only recently have abolished that practice. That was where the Unseelie, my Dark cousins, learned the practice and they employ it to this day." The warrior's voice was harsh with disgust. "Among my people, slavery is seen as the ultimate degradation, a loss of freedom of both body and spirit that withers a person's self-esteem away. The Seelie Court practices not such things."

"Yet you have servants there, Draco said so."

"Yes, but they are bound to serve by their own will, spoken oaths of loyalty to Queen Titania, or are under contract for a period of years. Once their contract is up they are given the choice to continue serving the Queen and her court, or leave and continue their lives as they wish. A contract is binding only for an individual, never for an entire family, and while that one is under contract, one is also under the monarch's protection, and sacred. To harm a servant of Titania is tantamount to harming the Queen Herself, and the punishment is swift and harsh. If one gives one's life in her service, that one is counted a hero and their name is sung across the land, never to be forgotten. Even if one is a lowly sprite or butterfly fairy, we do them the honor, for so did they honor their vows. Some must rule and some must serve, but the choice to serve is offered freely."

"And you don't . . .abuse your servants?"

"No, child. We do not whip them or make sport of them like the Unseelie do. Even as children, we of noble birth are taught to respect our servants, and for many our tutors and nurses raise us because our parents must be elsewhere, and so we love them as we would our kin. I have often heard Prince Balin, Titania's youngest son, refer to his dryad nurse Acornia as Mother, for she raised him until he was five, and Titania was able to spend more time with him. He listens to her counsel even now that he is of age, and grown far beyond the nursery."

"I wish more wizards felt that way about their house elves." Hermione said with a sigh.

"It is an old crime, this slavery," sighed her elder. "But you must understand, child, that it did not occur overnight. It has been going on for centuries in one way and another. So you must not expect miracles to happen. Your wizard friends have grown up with the idea that it is right, even proper, to have house elf slaves. Though you and I know it is wrong, they accept it as a way of life. They were taught that their house elves enjoy serving them, and maybe some do, though I doubt that was always the case. After so many centuries, the house elves have become accustomed to their bondage, as they too have grown up with it, and they fear breaking the chains and living a life filled with possibilities. In short, they have lost some of their ability to think for themselves, having lived so long being ordered about."

"I know. Mr. Crouch freed his house elf, Winky, and she's miserable. She keeps begging him to take her back and he keeps refusing. She won't even talk about what happened to make him free her in the first place."

"Sometimes, when a magical bond is severed suddenly, it leaves a scar upon the elf's spirit. I think that is what this Winky is suffering from, that and fear of the unknown. She should accompany me back to my world, where she can be treated by our Healers and learn what it means to be a free brownie, as her people were meant to be."

"You would take her back with you? Oh, that would be wonderful!" Hermione cried, smiling. "But how can I get people to listen to me about abolishing the house elf slavery and just . . .taking them on as contracted servants? I thought about making badges, like this one," she showed Sarai her new S.P.E.W badge. "It stands for Society for Promotion of Elvish Welfare."

The warrior chuckled. "Hmm. You are most dedicated, but first you must have a plan to win over your stubborn fellow witches and wizards. And to do that you must start slowly. Find a few youngsters in your year or older who share the same views as you about the cruelty of house elves. I am sure there are more than you know."

"But they'd be mostly Muggleborns and half-bloods," Hermione said. "I need purebloods as well."

"Those might be harder to find, though I would say your Draco would be one, as would Harry."

"Harry's not a real pureblood. I guess he's more of a half-blood."

"Nevertheless, he is respected among you, so he would be a good one to include in your campaign. Second, you must not think of it as a frontal attack, Hermione. You ought to go about it quietly, for those purebloods who do happen to hold views as you do are not going to broadcast them willingly. They have learned to hide what they believe, probably for fear of parental disapproval or punishment. Suggest that they not need give up their house elf permanently, but simply release them from their original binding and draw up a contract for a specific number of years and make it mutually beneficial to both parties. That may draw more wizards to your cause. Third, you must also have a spokesperson among the elves to present these new ideas and to demonstrate how useful they could be. Perhaps you might consider recruiting that one elf you mentioned . . .Dobby?"

Hermione nodded. "Yes, Dobby would be a great help."

Sarai smiled. "I wish you luck in your campaign, Hermione. But remember, sometimes changes must come slowly if they are to last. I know it's hard not to become impatient, especially at your age, but better to have a few solid allies behind you, than a hundred wishy-washy ones who may abandon you when the going gets tough. And perhaps you may consider this for your new campaign—Wizards Against the Slavery of House-elves—WASH. Signifying also that you intend to wash the slate clean of past wrongs and begin anew. Your other one was a bit . . .disconcerting and might remind people of vomit."

Hermione thought for a moment. "Yes . . .you've got a point there. I like your slogan much better. Thank you, Sarai."

"You are most welcome, Hermione. I think you have a bright future ahead of you. Perhaps I may see you again next year."

"I'd like that a lot, my lady," Hermione said, grinning.

"And now, I must be going, I have several duties I must attend to back at home and should be leaving here soon. Farewell, young sorceress." Sarai gave her a semi-formal bow, such as an adult uses to a child upon leavetaking among the fae, and then went to follow Severus back to his quarters to gather her things and bid him and the rest of the family goodbye.

* * * * * *

Later that evening:

Harry tossed a red ball for Cafall to chase across the grass, letting the misthound work off some of his boundless puppy energy. He looked at his brother, whom he had not talked to since Draco had congratulated him after completing the second task of the tournament. "Something's bothering you, I can tell. Want to talk about it? Or did you really come out here to play fetch with Cafall?"

Draco knelt and ruffled the puppy's ears when the misthound came up to him, wagging his plumed tail with the red ball in his mouth. "Good boy," he praised the puppy, and received a lick across the cheek. "Now, go and get it!" he ordered, standing and flinging the ball all the way across the lawn, augmenting his throw with magic so the ball flew several yards, almost down to the Quidditch pitch.

Cafall gave a happy bark and trotted off after it, unconcerned that it had seemingly vanished. Misthounds could track better than the best bloodhound, Cafall knew he would find the ball wherever it had gone.

Harry stared at his brother. "Why'd you use magic? You didn't have to."

"He needs practice tracking things with magic's scent on them," Draco answered, chewing his lower lip. He turned away, his hands stuck in the pockets of his Slytherin robes, paced about five paces, then returned. He was unsure if he wanted to discuss his foundering relationship with Hermione with anyone, but he was afraid if he didn't tell someone he risked losing the girl to her studies. And Harry was the best one—the only one—he trusted to talk about it.

Harry waited calmly, sensing Draco gathering his thoughts.

Draco abruptly broke the gathering silence. "Have you ever wanted to just . . . strangle Hermione?"

Harry coughed. That was not what he'd been expecting at all. "Not lately. Why?"

Draco ground his teeth. "Because she's become . . .obsessed with studying and it's really . . .getting on my nerves."

"Draco, she's always been that way. Don't tell me you just noticed?"

"You don't understand what I mean. Yes, I knew she was a bookworm and brilliant, that's no secret, the whole school knows that. But she was never . . .like this. She used to take a break once in awhile, go out for a walk with me, visit Hogsmeade, hell, even eat ice cream for an hour before going back to her Arithmancy." He shook his head, running his fingers through his blond hair.

"I have noticed she's been more . . .intent lately. We have finals in a few months. And you know Hermione, she has to start studying for them in advance of any normal student. And she's been working on her newest project, Abolish House-elf Slavery too."

"Tell me something I don't know, Harry," Draco snapped irritably. "What I want to know is how to get her nose out of her damn books and make her notice me again. I tried asking her to talk with me that night after your second task and she just . . . totally blew me off. Said she had to study and do homework and then got tetchy when I said she could afford a few hours off. I haven't really seen her in over a month, what with my schedule and hers, and all I wanted was a lousy hour or two and she ignores me!"

Harry gave his brother a sympathetic glance. "Hermione and her books are like me and Quidditch sometimes."

"Ha! I could never see you refuse Katie an evening out even if you had practice and a game the next day. You're not completely delusional."

"Not anymore. But there was a time when I used to brush off Ron when I had a big game."

"That's different. He's your friend . . .not your boyfriend." Draco argued. "Got any ideas about how I should handle her?"

"Well, you could disguise yourself as a rare volume of poetry," Harry suggested mischievously. "She'd put her hands all over you then."

"Prat!" Draco cuffed him across the back of the head.

"Okay, how about walking into the library and stripping off your clothes in front of her? That'd get her attention if anything would." His brother ducked Draco's second smack and danced away.

"Great idea there, little brother! It'd attract her attention and Madam Pince's like a shot. Then how would I explain to Dad the reason I was forever banned from the library and maybe facing expulsion?"

"You . . .uh . . .could say it was an experiment gone wrong?"

Draco rolled his eyes. "You're hopeless, Harry!"

"But at least you're smiling. A little."

"Because you're an utter idiot," his brother groused. "Maybe I could vanish all her books . . .no, then she'd have a breakdown . . .what else . . ."

"Give her a week, and then try talking to her again," Harry suggested seriously. "She'll have gotten most of her homework out of the way and some of her studying. She might even be lonely and want company."

Draco frowned down at his shoes. "All right. I'll try that. But this obsession with her studies is getting to be . . .unhealthy."

"I know. I've tried to tell her to slow down, but she won't listen to me either. Tells me it'd be better if I studied more."

Draco laughed. "You study more now than you ever did before with Dad on your arse."

"Yeah. Only she's too caught up in her own studies to notice." Harry pointed out.

Cafall barked loudly somewhere beyond the treeline.

"Sounds like he's cornered some kind of animal again," Draco said.

"Let's go see what it is." Harry said, walking forward. "I wish this year were over."

"When's the last task you have to complete?" Draco asked, accompanying him.

"Somewhere around the end of June, the 24th, I think." Harry replied. "Bagman was supposed to let us know more details a month or so before the actual test. I guess this one doesn't require us to solve riddles."

"You did brilliantly at that one. I doubt if I could have done as well."

Harry shrugged modestly. "I had help from a certain kelpie," he whispered. "I hope this last task isn't something that requires me to kill a creature or fight one of the other champions or something."

"You mean, like in a duel?"

Harry nodded.

"You shouldn't be afraid of dueling them, Harry. Out of all of them, you're better prepared. You've had Dad and Sarai drilling you in kin-sa-dor and Defense, plus working with the Dueling Club too. You could take all of them, no sweat."

"Probably."

"No probably, Phoenix. I've seen you fight. You almost match me."

"Almost? I kicked your arse last session with Dad."

"I was distracted," Draco argued.

"By Hermione? Right."

"It's the truth." Draco said, nettled. "You wouldn't know what it's like, since you and Katie are like the perfect couple."

Harry exploded into laughter. "Not hardly, Dragon. We've had our share of spats."

"When?"

"Last week. She fought with me because she read some stupid article in Witch Weekly that Skeeter woman printed about me being "hopelessly in love with Ginny Weasley." Utter rubbish!"

Draco gaped. "Holy Merlin! You and Weasley's sister? That's just . . .absurd!"

"I know."

"It was made up." Draco said instantly. 

"That's what I told her, but she was still angry with me. Said rumors get started from a grain of truth so sometime I must have acted like I had feelings for Ginny."

"What? Bloody hell, she's your best mate's little sister! I'd cut Goyle's balls off if he ever considered going out with my little sister, if we had one."

"I know. Ron would have hexed me to the moon. Not that I ever thought of Ginny that way. She's always been like my sister. But she's also had a bit of a crush on me. And with the article . . .Katie just reacted the wrong way . . ."

"Don't know how I missed that. Must have been asleep."

"Or involved in your own romantic problems," Harry said.

"You back together again?"

"Yeah. Once she went away and thought about it, she realized it was all a pack of lies. Spent the next day apologizing to me and I forgave her and then we went to Madam Puddifoot's and talked . . ."

"That's all?"

"Yeah. Talk to her, Draco. Girls like it when you have discussions about stuff. Meaningful discussions, without snogging, I mean."

"I know what you mean." They had walked across the lawn, following the misthound's excited barking. "All right. I'll try it. What have I got to lose?"

They saw the misthound standing against a tree, baying at something blue and fluttering high up in the branches, and something else that sported a bushy tail.

He put a finger in his mouth and whistled, calling Cafall in from his squirrel or doxy hunt.

Seconds later, the puppy came panting in to lie at his feet. Draco knelt and snapped a leash on his collar. "Come on, puppy. Gotta get home so I can catch Hermione before she gets to the library."

Cafall whined and then darted back the way they came, making Draco and Harry run to keep up with his flying paws.

* * * * * * *

But Draco's plan to ambush Hermione in the library did not work, since that night, Severus called both his sons into the Room of Requirement to have extra dueling practice. Draco would have liked to refuse, but he knew Severus had very little time these days for sessions, and he didn't want his father to be angry with him for skipping practice over a bit of a lover's quarrel.

This session Severus taught them Impediment jinxes and Confunding Charms as well as a Reductor Curse. He also worked with Cafall, teaching him hand signals that Sarai had said the Houndmaster taught the Queen's misthounds. Mostly these were basic commands like "Stay", "Heel", "Down", and "Leave it", but eventually Severus would teach Cafall other commands like "Find It" and "Guard".

The puppy proved just as willing and eager to learn as his sons, which made him pleased.

He managed to keep his focus for the two hour session, but afterwards he was tired and wanted a hot shower and bed. Harry volunteered to go and find Hermione and tell her Draco had been wanting to talk to her, for which his brother was grateful.

But Harry found Hermione still studying, and though he delivered the message, he was unsure if she was truly paying attention, she was so immersed in Ancient Runes. He left her to her reading, too exhausted to repeat himself. Severus had worked them hard that night, but Harry did not regret it. Any magic he could learn to defend himself was a plus, since Moody was still teaching them standard countercurses which he had already mastered over the summer.

* * * * * *

Over the next week and a half, the teachers began piling on the assignments and started giving surprise quizzes in Potions, Transfiguration, and Charms. All the students were studying hard, but none as hard as Hermione Granger, who had twice the workload as her fellow Gryffindors and she even beat out the studious Ravenclaws for most subjects taken by a fourth-year.

This did not go unnoticed by her Head of House, who suggested tactfully that Hermione might think carefully about taking less course electives next year and also suggested she spend less time studying and more time outdoors, since she was beginning to look peaked. But Hermione politely listened to McGonagall's suggestions and then returned to her books and parchments. She was irritated with her professor's suggestions that she take less courses and get some fresh air. Did none of them understand what a tight schedule she was on? She had almost no time for anything leisure, not if she were to finish the project her Arithmancy professor had assigned for the end of the year.

She wished she still had her Time Turner from last year, but Dumbledore had taken it back at the end of the year, saying that the Ministry would not authorize its use to a student more than once in a consecutive year.

So she began picking at her meals, hurrying through them as quickly as she could to return to her books. She didn't return to Gryffindor Tower until the very edge of curfew, and even then some of the girls whispered that she studied with a Lumos spell behind her bedhangings till all hours of the morning. She began to appear worn and drawn, with circles beneath her eyes, which she tried to hide with cosmetics, but Draco could tell her frantic pace was starting to tell on her.

He tried several times to get her to take a break, but she simply snapped at him to leave her be. "I know what I'm doing, damn it! Now just leave me alone, Malfoy!"

"Fine! You want to burn yourself out, go right ahead!" he snarled. "But don't expect me to hang around and watch." Then he departed, before he lost his temper and said even more angry words he regretted.

He stalked down to the dungeons, fists balled, anger and concern causing his stomach to ache fiercely. He spotted Severus coming out of his lab, obviously preparing to return to his apartments and sleep. "Draco? Is something wrong?"

"Dad, I need to talk to you," he began. "In private."

Snape led him to his apartment, wondering what had his son so flustered. He had just spoken with Philip, the vampire had departed to make sure Harry was safely in Gryffindor Tower before investigating the Durmstrang ship, for Karkaroff had been exhibiting increasingly edgy behavior of late, and Severus suspected him of contacting some of his old Death Eater pals. Phil had volunteered to stalk after the wizard and see what he was up to.

After locking the door and making sure all the wards were intact, Severus removed his teaching robes and boots and settled down on the couch. He looked at Draco, who remained standing for a bit before joining him.

"It's about Hermione, sir," he said formally. "I'm . . .worried about her. She studies way too much, it's an obsession, and I can't get her to listen to me. I'm worried she'll burn herself out, using her magic so much, or collapse from overwork. She hardly eats and she almost never sleeps now, she does nothing save go to class and study till all hours. It's scary, Dad. I've never seen anything like it. Even the Ravens aren't that bad, and they live and breathe books!"

"Have you tried talking to her Head of House?"

"Me? No, but Harry said McGonagall already had a talk with her about too much studying, and it didn't work, since she's still moldering in the library. Dad, I know it's not healthy, what she's doing."

"No, it isn't. I shall watch her myself during double potions tomorrow and if she looks like she's fatigued and exhausted, I shall speak to her about it." Severus said firmly.

"Maybe you ought to give her detention too. And then make her sleep during it."

Severus nodded. "That actually is not a bad idea." He considered that he might well have to resort to that if his lecture had no effect. Or speaking to Dumbledore about restricting her from her extra elective because she was putting herself under too much stress.

He reached out and clasped Draco's shoulder. "Dragon, don't worry. I know how to handle her, and I will if she appears to be falling apart as you describe. I've experienced this in the past with other students." And myself, he added silently.

"Thanks, Dad," Draco said gratefully. "Hey, what's up with Uncle Phil? I thought I saw him leaving, but he didn't stop and say hello."

"He's investigating some unsavory rumors for me," Severus said evasively. "I'm sure he'll come by later on when he's done and have a practice with you and Harry."

"Oh. But then who's guarding Harry?"

"Smidgen is, since I can escort you to and from the Slytherin common room myself."

"I don't think there are many people who'll mess with us now," Draco remarked. He and Harry had been gaining quite a reputation as duelists since the outset of the Dueling Club.

"Still, better to have someone at your back," Severus said wisely, and then he rose to escort his blond son back to the Snake's Den, as the Slytherins affectionately called their dorm.

* * * * * *

The next day, Severus did indeed keep a sharp eye upon one Hermione Granger, noting that Draco was correct in his assessment of the girl's condition. She looked too pale and her skin was drawn too tightly over her cheekbones, her eyes were burned hole in her head and though she tried to look excited about the drafts he had assigned them, which were antidotes to various poisons, she lacked her old spark and vigor.

She was paired as usual with Draco, but Snape noted that his son was doing much of the prep work and letting her stir the cauldron. Usually they divided up the tasks and managed to complete their potion ahead of schedule working as a team. Hermione performed her parts correctly, but it was almost by rote.

She's running on pure adrenaline, the Potions Master thought. He knew that feeling all too well.

Yes, this definitely needed his attention, before something dire occurred.

He decided to speak with her in the library after dinner, he knew she would be there because Draco had said she now spent practically every moment she was not in class inside those walls. Severus could have forced her to come to his office and questioned her there, but he wished to see for himself just how far her obsession went. Was it as bad as his own had been?

His curiosity and concern would be satisfied soon, he thought, watching as the class made their way out the door. Right then he had tests to grade.

* * * * * * *

It was seven o'clock and Hermione already felt worn out and her eyes burned from staring too long at her list of equations and charts for her Arithmancy homework. Professor Vector wanted three feet of parchment on how certain numeric equations were based upon the sacred trinity and also the numbers of four and five, four being the number of cardinal directions and the four elements used traditionally in spells of white magic summoning and binding and five being the number of a pentacle, another traditional magical symbol, five being the sacred number to the Greek magicians, and used to bind dangerous dark creatures, such as imps and devils.

She had her theory all worked out, and just had to put it into coherent terms and yet she found her eyes were closing. She forced them open. She was tempted to drink a small vial of a Sleepless potion she had purchased last Hogsmeade weekend, its effects would last three hours and in that time she could do much studying. But right then, she could feel her eyelids growing heavy, and the potion was in her bag, and she couldn't summon the energy necessary to reach down and untie her satchel.

Have to concentrate . . .what was that sentence again? Oh yes, if the pentacle's sides are equal then the spell performed must match up with the equation for . . . her mind drew a blank. She fumbled for her text, only to find it pulled from her grasp and closed firmly.

She blinked and looked up into the dark eyes of her potions professor.

"Miss Granger, you have studied quite enough for one night. Several nights, in fact."

"Professor Snape? Why are you taking my books? I need them for class," she gasped as he picked up her bag and held it away from her beseeching hands.

"And they shall be returned to you . . .for class only," he said quietly, but there was steel in his voice.

"No!" she half-shouted, stumbling to her feet. "I need them! Give them back, sir!"

He held up a hand. "Calm down, Granger. And sit before you fall over. You needn't act as if I'm stealing away your firstborn. Sit down!" he ordered sharply.

Hermione obeyed, though she remained staring up at him defiantly, reminding him sharply of himself at that age. "I don't understand. You're a teacher, why would you keep my books from me?"

"Because I have noticed, as have your friends, that you have become . . .obsessed with studying, to the point of it being detrimental to your health and your magical wellbeing," Snape began.

"I'm not!" she flared. "Did Draco tell you that? Because it's not true. I can handle all my work, sir."

"Yes, Draco came to me, concerned that you have overworked yourself and will burn yourself out. It has happened before, Miss Granger. How many days do you think you can last without sleep? Or getting by on a bit of toast with jam and tea for breakfast and half a sandwich for lunch and two bites of dinner? A healthy body equals a healthy mind and you are sleep deprived and undernourished, young lady."

"How do you know that? I feel perfectly fine, sir."

Snape snorted. "So fine you are nodding off over your parchment. I know because I have eyes and can see that you display the classic symptoms of too much studying."

"Draco and Harry talk too much."

"Be glad that they do, or else you could have done yourself irreparable harm, Miss Granger," the Potions Master scolded. "Do you know what happens when you overspend your magical core? You throw yourself into the equivalent of a coma, as your magic attempts to replace its lost energy by drawing upon your body's reserves. And if you have no reserves to draw on, it shall take what it can and make you collapse, as it eats away at your organs. You will waste away and die, slowly, if the magical drain is not caught in time. Am I making myself clear, or do I need to fetch a diagram?"

"No, sir. But . . .I'm not practicing magic every night. I'm doing my homework and studying for tests. How is that wrong? That's what you're supposed to do at school!"

"Child, moderate your tone," he ordered brusquely. "There is no need to get snippy with me. I am telling you this for your own good. Why do you feel the need to study so hard? You retain information better than almost any student I currently teach."

"I know, but . . .it's not enough! Can't you understand? There is so much I need to learn, more than I thought possible, and I need to learn it now, that's why I have so many courses . . ."

"Miss Granger, while I commend your thirst for knowledge, you cannot possibly learn every subject at Hogwarts in the space of seven years. It is an impossible task, even for one such as you. Trying it will only result in your mental and physical collapse. And what a waste of a brilliant mind that would be."

"You're wrong, sir." Hermione argued, not even realizing that was what she was doing. "I can do this. I may only be a Muggleborn, but I can master my subjects. And I will!"

Severus glowered down at her. "You are too stubborn for your own good, Granger. Your marks are the top of your class and yet you still feel the need to prove yourself? To whom? Your peers? Your parents?"

"Everyone!"

"That is lunacy, girl! You are destroying yourself with your incessant studying and you are blind to it. Even you have limits. Were you my child, I would lock up every book you owned and forbid you to do anything save sleep and eat for the next fortnight."

"You wouldn't! You're a teacher!" she protested, scandalized.

"Yes, but a teacher who knows the difference between a dedicated student and one who is obsessed. And you, Miss Granger, are the latter." Severus said, one index finger pointing at her.

"No!"

"Yes, and do not shout at me. Denial changes nothing. I would have thought you smart enough to know that. When you start neglecting your health for your studies you are no longer merely a studious bookworm. You are an obsessed one. I know, for I too once walked the road you now travel. You cannot see the chasm looming before you because you are too close to the edge. But take one step further and you shall fall off the cliff."

She stared up at him, mouth agape. "But . . .I thought you would understand . . ." she sounded perilously close to tears.

"I do. You think because you are Muggleborn that you need to prove irrevocably that you are the equal, if not better, to many of those born in the wizarding world. You also have an innate drive to succeed, to learn, and knowledge is like a drug to you. You drink and are never satisfied. You end up craving more and more. Why the Hat ever put you in Gryffindor instead of Ravenclaw or Slytherin I'll never know. You have the ambition of a snake coupled with a desire to learn that surpasses even the House of Eagles. It is something to be proud of, but it can also be a double-edged sword."

He leaned upon the desk spread with parchments and said softly, "You are too young to waste your talent and your mind this way. You need to stop and think about what you are doing. There is more to the world than books, Miss Granger. I know that is a difficult concept to grasp, since you, like me, worship the written word. But stare too long into the sun and you shall go blind. Thus did my Defense teacher, Professor Cypher, say to me when I was your age, and obsessed with learning potions and anything else I could get my hands on. I wore myself to a sliver and nearly paid the price."

"But I need to study. Finals are coming . . ."

"Granger, finals are months away, in June. Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is still March, is it not?"

"Yes."

"You hardly need to study so far in advance, you are not a dullard. You are, in fact, ahead of many of your classmates. Now, enough is enough. You will listen to me, or else I shall ban you from the library and inform the Headmaster of your obsession and he will most likely put you in the Hospital Wing in order to get you back up to full strength again. For weeks."

Hermione was stunned and horrified. "No, please Professor Snape. Don't do that! It would be so . . humiliating. And wouldn't it be against school policy?"

"No. It is a teacher's duty to see to the wellbeing of his students. Even if it means protecting them from their own folly. Are you willing to listen to the alternative? For if not, I am perfectly capable of tossing you over my shoulder and putting you to bed like a cranky toddler in my quarters. Just ask either of my sons."

Hermione paled, for she knew Snape was not kidding. "Okay, sir. What . . .do you suggest?" she was too tired to argue further, and even if she wasn't, he made too much sense for her to refute him logically. His veiled threats held concern behind them and she knew he spoke so because he cared what became of her. She also knew that he would not be driven away by her sharp tongue and would not be ignored either.

"I recommend that you drop the third elective you are taking this term. No, be silent and let me finish," he held up a hand. "You can pick it up next term or study it over the summer, but right now you have a large enough workload as it is. Furthermore, you need to think about what subject or subjects you are best at, and focus on them, rather than spreading yourself too thin trying to master everything. Had you all the time in the world, you couldn't do it. Your time would be better spent learning two branches of magic thoroughly. Study others that interest you during breaks, but keep it reasonable."

He pulled up a chair and sat down. He did not need to threaten, for he had her attention. "Remember, your mind also needs a healthy body in order to function. No sleep and no food make you into a zombie and will kill you quicker than any curse. So, here is what I propose. I shall make you up a schedule, where you shall attend class and have set periods of study time, and time for meals and exercise and sleep. It will be arranged so you will have time to do things other than read and keep you from obsessing over your grades. You will follow it diligently, and I will know if you do or not, and not because my sons will inform me."

"But professor, what can I do if you don't allow me to read?" she sniffled.

"Miss Granger, there are many things you can do besides read textbooks. I will allow you to read two or three novels or magazines a week for pleasure. But I will also encourage you to talk walks about the grounds and enjoy nature and fresh air. You may also spar with Harry and Draco, or assist me in gathering potion ingredients. Perhaps you could help Hagrid with his injured animals or Professor Sprout with her plants. All these things are worthy causes and will not leave you idle and bored. Professor Cypher gave me much the same options."

"Did you take his offer?"

"I did, and it is why I am standing before you now and not a shell in St. Mungos. Trust me, Miss Granger. It is not the end of the world if you don't get a hundred percent in your Ancient Runes class. Life will go on. And so will you. I will inform Professor McGonagall of your new schedule, as she ought to know of it."

"She told me I should do what you said too."

"Oh? Apparently she was not persuasive enough," he snorted.

Hermione flushed. If McGonagall had threatened her as Snape had, she would have thought the witch was putting her on. Mostly. But not so this one. Not after what Harry had told her about his days at Prince Manor. He always does what he says, Hermione. He never threatens and doesn't follow through. Never.

"I'll . . .do what you say, sir," she agreed reluctantly. Then she looked up at him with woeful eyes, as if he had burned all of her books and locked her in a tower.

"Do not look at me that way, young lady. Someday you shall thank me for being such a bastard to you. Do you forget that Draco wishes to spend time with you and not your textbook? He has been waiting for you to put down your quill and you're lucky he hasn't grown disgusted and sought out someone else by now."

Hermione felt her heart grow cold. Had she really been that close to ruining their relationship? She knew she had shoved him away several times, but . . ."He must hate me then. For . . .for putting my studies before him."

"Hate you? No. He is annoyed with you and concerned. I would suggest you speak with him as soon as possible."

"I will, sir. And I'll agree to your terms. I didn't realize . . .I just wanted to . . ." she trailed off.

"I know. I shall keep your bag in my quarters and will send you your books as needed, as well as any parchment and ink you require. I will speak with your other teachers about assignments and so forth. I shall have the schedule to you by tomorrow evening. Keep to your end of the bargain, Miss Granger. Or you know what will happen."

"Yes, sir." She yawned, and stood up, only to find she was dizzy.

Severus caught her before she crumpled to the floor. "Merlin's bones, how long has it been since you've eaten properly?"

"Don't know. Ate some bread tonight," she mumbled, leaning against him.

Severus muttered something that sounded like "Fool girl, lunatics like you need to be taken over my knee, I swear!" before he swung her up into his arms and carried her to his quarters.

The corridors were quiet and then he ordered her a hot meal and after she had eaten gave her a Nutrient Draft and escorted her back to Gryffindor Tower, contacting Smidgen, and telling the fae cat to make sure Hermione went straight to bed.

The girl did, and Smidgen made sure she slept deeply without dreams.

* * * * * *

Hermione slept most of the next day, as it was Saturday, and then she rose, showered and went down to eat lunch. She could feel eyes on her, and when she looked about, saw her potions professor watching her from the staff table.

"Hey, 'Mione." Draco greeted, leaning on the edge of the table and smiling cautiously. "How are you doing?"

"I'm okay," she said, wondering if he knew about Snape's little talk. "I'm just . . .hungry." As soon as she said that, she realized it was true. She was starving.

She carefully served herself some deviled eggs, fruit, and ham from the platters on the table.

"I can see that from how you're eating." He chuckled. "I'm glad you've got your appetite back."

She nodded.

He sat down beside her. "Would you like to go for a walk with me after you eat?"

"Yes. I would." She gave him a smile, and was relieved when he returned it without hesitation.

After she had eaten as much as she could, she allowed Draco to take her hand and together they walked down by the lake, where he paused and skipped stones into the water.

"You're good," she said shyly.

"I had a lot of practice over the summer. We have a pond at the manor," he said.

"Draco, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to . . .neglect you."

"Didn't you?" he frowned at her.

She flushed in shame. "Okay, maybe I did. But I . . .didn't really mean it. I just was . . .concerned over my studies."

"Obsessed, you mean."

She bit her lip. She really disliked that term, but couldn't deny it was true. "Yes."

"How come you're not all of a sudden?"

"Your dad talked to me. He . . .made me see that what I was doing was hurting me . . .and you. He told me I could have killed myself. Then he made me promise to follow a schedule he's going to make for me otherwise he'd ban me from the library and have Pomfrey put me in the hospital to get bed rest."

Draco snickered. "He really said that?"

"Yes. And he meant it too."

"I believe it."

"I didn't realize how selfish I was being until he told me," she admitted quietly. "I'm sorry for shutting you out, Draco. I treated you like . . .like a piece of furniture and I never meant to do that to you. Can you forgive me?"

"Of course, bookworm," he said, then he took her in his arms and kissed her.

She melted into his arms and wondered how she could have forgotten how good it felt to be held close, and kissed like she was a precious treasure, and how much she loved this pureblood scion, who had defied convention just for her. How could she ever have thought for an instant that musty books and parchment were worth losing him? I really was obsessed. But now I'm sane, for the first time in . . . months. And I intend to stay that way.

When at last they drew apart, Draco was grinning and then he said, "Want to go flying, 'Mione?"

"I'm . . .not very good on a broom."

"You can fly with me. I'll hold you and you'll never fall."

"Promise?" she had always been a little scared of riding a broomstick.

"Promise."

He summoned his broom with a casual wandless gesture.

 

"Someday you have to teach me how to do that."

"When you have more time to spare, I will. Right now, just come fly with me, Granger." Draco said, then he mounted his broom and she sat in front of him.

They flew gracefully about the pitch and Draco kept his arm about her the entire time. She leaned back against him and felt the beat of his heart against her back and smiled. She took great gulps of the fresh air and for the first time did not feel stuffy or hot.

Draco did not try any Quidditch moves while Hermione was with him, he simply flew calmly, and treasured the moment that she was with him.

After an hour they landed and walked slowly back to the castle, where they found Severus in the Entrance Hall, waiting for them. "Miss Granger, you look much better," he said. He handed her a piece of parchment. "Your new schedule, effective on Monday."

"Thank you, sir," she replied, glancing at the parchment briefly. Then she stuffed it in her robes. "Draco and I are going to play chess."

"Oh? What kind?"

"The Muggle way. Where you need to really think in order to outsmart your opponent and nothing gets smashed."

Severus nodded and turned away, adding over his shoulder, "Draco, be careful. Miss Granger makes a formidable opponent, I would say."

Hermione smirked. "What he said." Then she took Draco's arm and led him into the Great Hall, then used her wand and Summoned her chess set from her room. For the first time in over a month she felt alert and stress free and happy to spend time with her Slytherin boyfriend, who was lucky he had such a perceptive father.

Hope you all liked this one.

Please take a look back at chapter 25, I've added a bit to it at the beginning which was left out by mistake, it clarifies some points about the sphinx and her challenge.
Just to clear up a misconception by a reviewer--I did not make up the creature called a "brownie", it has existed in English folklore for centuries. Here is the definition according to Wikipedia A brownie/brounie or urisk (Lowland Scots) or brùnaidh, ùruisg, or gruagach (Scottish Gaelic) is a legendary kind of creature popular in folklore around Scotland and England

Customarily brownies (a type of hob – see hobgoblin) are said to inhabit houses and aid in tasks around the house. However, they don't like to be seen and will only work at night, traditionally in exchange for small gifts or food. They take quite a delight in porridge and honey. They usually abandon the house if their gifts are called payments, or if the owners of the house misuse them. Brownies make their homes in an unused part of the house.

The House Elves featured in the Harry Potter series have characteristics of brownies.

This is what Sarai was speaking of when she said house elves were otherwise known as, it was NOT intended as any kind of racial slur.

Next: Phil returns and finds out some interesting things about Karkaroff, plus Rita gets out her poison pen again!
 


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