"I wish they would only take me as I am." -Vincent van Gogh
The time of year when Hogwarts students make their way to Platform Nine and Three-Quarters arrived with alarming speed for Hermione, Harry, Ron and Ginny. Before they knew it, Mrs. Weasley was urging them out the door at number 12, Grimmauld Place, with trunks stuffed to bursting point, to the awaiting train.
Ginny, a newly appointed Gryffindor Prefect, sat in one of the Prefect’s compartments with Harry, who was once again Captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team. Ron sat in a compartment with only Luna Lovegood, as Neville had been lost in the war, and there were few students attending Hogwarts this year. Hermione patrolled the corridors, calming nervous first years and chatting with those friends of hers whom had survived the war.
The train ride seemed to stretch on forever and no one complained. The students were in no hurry to arrive at Hogwarts this year. They were dreading the unknown that awaited them at their destination.
Hermione passed by Ron and Luna’s compartment and found that Ginny and Harry were also there. She sat down in the compartment, next to Luna, who moved her various copies of the Quibbler to accommodate Hermione’s presence.
“Done all your Head Girl stuff?” Luna inquired.
“A Head Girl’s job is never done, but I think I can take a break,” Hermione replied, snatching a piece of Cauldron Cake from the boys’ enormous pile of sweets.
“We were just wondering how McGonagall managed to find enough teachers for this year,” said Ron.
“By our count, we figure she needed a new Potions teacher, one for Defense Against the Dark Arts, a Groundskeeper, and someone for the Deputy Head position,” Ginny chimed in.
“Well, I know for a fact that she hired Grubbly-Plank to take over Hagrid’s job. I also believe that she named Sprout the new Deputy Head,” Hermione replied, while munching on her piece of cake.
“So that leaves Potions and DADA,” Harry concluded.
“Actually… When I ran into Professor McGonagall in Diagon Alley, she said Snape was coming back to teach Potions,” Hermione mumbled.
“What?!” Harry and Ron cried out in unison.
“Yeah, she hired him back on.”
“No way!” Ron exclaimed.
“And to think I was looking forward to one good year in Potions. I thought it would be great; no Malfoy, no Crabbe, no Goyle, no Snape. Now you tell me I have to put up with Snape,” said Harry.
Ginny made an attempt at changing the subject quickly before Harry began to fume.
“That still leaves DADA. Any clue who’s teaching that, ‘Mione?” Ginny asked.
“Not a clue in the world,” Hermione replied.
“Another year, and another new and mysterious Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher,” Ron mused.
They spent the rest of the train ride talking of this and that, and watching the Scottish countryside pass by. At Hogsmeade they shared a carriage, and Luna entertained them all by talking about some creature she called a Prixelitillian, which nests in the manes of Thestrals.
Once the room settled and the first years were sorted, Headmistress McGonagall allowed them to eat without any opening remarks. They found that the house tables were more spacious without the many students they had lost, but the feast was laid out as splendidly as ever. Ron immediately began gorging himself, and no one protested except Harry, whose only concern was that Ron leave enough food for him. Eventually, the tables were cleared and the Headmistress gave her first speech.
“Welcome, first years and returning students. We are privileged to be here today, when so many of our friends and families were lost in the war. To commemorate all those who were lost and to be thankful that we are still here, we will now take a moment of silence,” said McGonagall.
All those in the Great Hall rose to their feet. Silence hung in the air. Hermione let her eyes wander around to the faces of the people in the room. She paused at the sight of Snape, surprised to find he was looking back at her. He seemed to be in better shape since the last time she had seen him. His cheeks were less gaunt, and his eyes were less sunken in. Still, Hermione could make out the faint traces of bruises on his cheek and hands which he had tried, without success, to conceal. At last, she let her gaze meet his and for that daring instant of eye contact, she felt herself come alive. Pin-prick sensations passed along the back of her neck, as she stared into his bottomless black eyes. McGonagall broke the magic of it, as she spoke to her students once more.
“Now, onto more menial things. Firstly, no student is to enter the Forbidden Forest. Also, for those wanting a complete list of banned objects, most of which you may have purchased at the Weasley’s shop in Diagon Alley, please talk to Mr. Filch. Secondly, Defense Against the Dark Arts classes will not begin until sometime next week, as our newest Professor could not be with us until then. Those with Defense on their time tables will be given it as a spare, for now. I believe that is all for now. Off to bed with the lot of you,” she concluded.
Bloated students waddled out of the Great Hall, with distended abdomens, as a result of the fantastic feast. Hermione was surprised at how simple her duties were; the Prefects picked up the slack. She was on her way to her new rooms in the southwest tower, when Professor Sprout asked her to come to a pre-bedtime tea in the staff lounge. Hermione followed her to the staff lounge, where she was informed that the password was ‘Quidditch‘.
“Good evening,” said the Headmistress.
“Good evening, Professors,” Hermione replied, honored to be in the staff lounge.
The staff lounge was decorated simply. There were cream colored wingback chairs everywhere, especially clustered around the stone fireplace, which was roaring in the corner. The walls were a simple taupe. Hermione noticed quite a few professors sitting in the chairs, deep in conversation. Flitwick was joking with McGonagall. Binns was sitting floating lazily over one of chairs, apparently talking to himself. Sinistra was mumbling something to Hooch and Vector.
Hermione noticed an open seat by the fireplace and took it. She did not notice until she was seated that she had taken the seat directly next to Severus Snape. He was slumped grumpily in the chair, apparently attempting to avoid any interaction, while delivering his mandatory presence.
“Good evening, Miss Granger,” he said silkily. “Shouldn’t you be in bed by now?”
“Yes, I should and was on my way when Professor Sprout invited me to tea,” she replied, with false confidence.
“Ah, well then, Miss Granger, I give you permission to leave.”
Hermione didn’t need to be told twice. She left quickly, informing her professors that she wanted to be rested for the next day, despite their protests that she stay longer. She jogged up to her new room, heart racing. She literally plunged into bed.
“What’s wrong with me?” she asked herself aloud. “Why do I let him get to me? Why do I like him?”