Sat at the Gryffindor table, Hermione struggled to focus herself on the conversation surrounding her. Her fellow Gryffindors were currently finishing off second helpings of dessert whilst loudly debating why the ministry was sending teachers to Hogwarts and whether the sickeningly sweet voiced witch would actually be any good. Hermione had listened to Professor Umbridge with disgust, both at the undertones her words implied and at her obvious disrespect of Dumbledore. Nothing good could come of ministry interference at Hogwarts. Then again it wasn't as though Dumbledore had much luck with previous appointments of the Defence Against the Dark Arts position. Time would tell, Hermione supposed, besides, if she was a good teacher then it wouldn't really matter if the ministry had given her the job and if she was a bad teacher…well, they'd just have to hope the rumours about a curse on the post were true.
Hermione had allowed these thoughts to swill around her mind in an attempt to keep less pleasant thoughts at bay. She had decided that she would do her damnedest to forget about what she had learnt this summer and as such had not so much as glanced at the Head Table. This year she would avoid Snape as much as possible, she would keep her head down and forget about him. After all, who wanted to be the daughter of someone who openly despised her. Not many people could take that kind of rejection.
"Miss Granger." Her thoughts were disturbed by the voice of the very person she was trying to avoid directly behind her. She plastered on a fake smile and, attempting to blink back the tears that had arisen as a result of her previous thoughts, she turned around to face him.
"Yes, Professor Snape?"
Snape said nothing about her blatant attempt to compose her expression but one raised eyebrow showed that he had seen her welled up eyes before the tears were batted away by dark eyelashes. "The Headmaster wishes to speak with you, in his office in 15 minutes."
Hermione visibly cringed and inwardly swore. Of course her parents would have informed the school after she had left. Professor Dumbledore was probably the first people her parents would have contacted in a state of panic having read her note. They would know that muggle police would be unable to find a girl who could use magic if she didn't want to be found and would also falsely expect her to have run to one of her school friends. Having very few options of people to contact in the magical world, her parents would naturally have contacted the Headmaster of her magical school, a man who, Hermione had told them, was very influential in the magical world. Hermione had no doubt why Dumbledore wanted to see her and she desperately wanted to avoid it.
Clutching at straws Hermione replied to the waiting Professor Snape, "I'm sorry, Sir, but as a prefect I'm required to take the first years up to the Gryffindor common room."
Snape glared down at her with an icy expression. "You are required in the Headmaster's office, Miss Granger, in 15 minutes."
Hermione huffed at his response. "Can I ask what this is about Professor?" She asked feigning innocence.
Snape smirked, "I would have thought a know-it-all such as yourself would at least be able to work that out."
Hermione struggled to retain her polite façade and practically growled out, "Was there anything else…Sir?" She belatedly added the reluctant term of respect.
Snape merely smirked at her obvious irritation and concluded with a, "Don't be late," before swooping out of The Great Hall, robes billowing behind him.
Hermione stared daggers at his back as he left and then turned back around to face the rather surprised faces of Ron and Harry who had been listening avidly to the whole encounter.
"What the bloody hell was that all about?" Ron asked with a mouth full of profiteroles. "I've never heard you speak to Snape like that before!"
"Well he's just a miserable git, isn't he?" Hermione responded, irritated that they had picked up on her less than subtle attitude towards Snape.
"Never mind that," Harry interrupted Ron's muffled agreements, "Why does Dumbledore want to see you?"
"How should I know?" Hermione snapped back, annoyed that Harry's insatiable curiosity had been sparked by Snape's inability to be discreet.
"Well Snape seemed to think you should know." Harry pressed.
"Have we not already established that Snape is a miserable git?" Hermione retorted, and with that she stormed from the Great Hall and headed towards the Headmaster's office.
Hermione wandered the halls knowing that she still had a bit of time and deciding how she would play this. She knew she probably wouldn't be in trouble; Dumbledore's idea of a stern telling off involved lemon drops and cuddles, but he would want to know where she had been and why she had run away. She could probably give them the gist of where she had spent the last few weeks but she certainly wouldn't be telling them how she recklessly wandered the streets of suburban London at night, vulnerable to attack from Death-eaters who had just reformed under the most evil wizard ever known and whose two purposes in life were to rid the world of muggleborns such as herself and to kill her best friend, before hopping on the Knight bus and heading into muggle London to stay at the cheapest B&B she could find. No, thought Hermione, she wouldn't divulge those particular details.
As she approached the Headmaster's office, she realised that Snape had failed to give her the password to Dumbledore's office but the gargoyle was obviously expecting her as it allowed her to ascend the stairs to the office door without her saying a word. Hermione took a deep breath and raised her fist to give two sharp knocks on the solid oak door. "Come in!" Hermione rolled her eyes at the familiarly chirpy voice of Professor Dumbledore, pushed the heavy door open and stepped inside.
On the other side of the door however, Hermione stopped. The office was occupied not just by Professor Dumbledore as she had expected, but also by Professor McGonagall and, much to her surprise and chagrin, Professor Snape. Hermione frowned, this wasn't a friendly chat, this was an interrogation. Well fine, thought Hermione, if they want a battle, they'll bloody well get one. Composing her face, she raised her eyes to Dumbledore and asked innocently, "You asked to see me, Professor?"
"I did, Miss Granger. Please take a seat." Hermione walked over and sat in the chair opposite the headmaster's desk that was clearly marked for her. Professor McGonogall stood at Dumbledore's right-hand side looking concerned but business-like, while Snape sat on a chair against the wall on the headmaster's left with an expression that shifted from mildly irritated to thoroughly bored.
Once she was sat, Dumbledore started with a kind smile, "Well Miss Granger, I must say I am delighted to see you again."
Hermione placed her features in a look of happy surprise that she should be addressed thus. "Thank you, Professor, it's nice to see you too."
Grinning, Dumbledore replied, "Ah, but despite my considerable age, my own return to the school this year was not in quite as much doubt as yours, Miss Granger." His eyes twinkled in mirth behind his half-moon spectacles. "I'm sure you realise why I have asked to see you this evening."
"I can't say I do, Professor." Hermione replied, although her façade was dropping. Still, if they want answers, thought Hermione, they're just going to have to come out and say it. There was no way she was going to voluntarily offer them information.
"Forgive me, Miss Granger, but I suspect you do in fact know exactly why I wished to speak with you. After all it wouldn't take a genius to work out that after running away from home one's parents might contact one's headmaster, and, to be blunt Miss Granger, they don't call you the brightest witch of your age for nothing." Dumbledore's eyes twinkled and Hermione sighed, dropping her innocent expression.
Still, as he hadn't actually asked her a question, Hermione felt no need to say anything and chose instead to raise a sardonic eyebrow.
Albus was rather taken aback by Hermione's expression. He had expected her to crack and confess to running off with an older boyfriend of whom her parents wouldn't approve or to break down in tears and explain how she'd quarrelled with her parents and felt she could no longer live under their roof. In all his previous experience of runaway teens the child had always regretted their actions upon seeing reason and had apologized profusely for the worry they had caused. Albus had at least expected this from Hermione, but as he looked at her face now there was a stern and unforgiving expression in her honey coloured eyes.
Hiding his surprise, the Headmaster addressed the girl before him who he was starting to see in a different light. "Miss Granger," he started softly, "Perhaps you could tell us where you have been spending the past 3 weeks?"
"I've been staying in Muggle London." Hermione had half a mind to tell them it was none of their God damn business where she spent her summer holiday but decided she might as well be honest with them on this question.
Professor McGonagall looked flabbergasted and couldn't quite get her words out. "Staying…London?...On your own?"
"Well as much as I'd love to say I was shacked up with an Italian stallion with a motorcycle and a cute backside, I'm afraid it was just me, Professor." Hermione smirked.
At this point Severus struggled to suppress a chuckle at Minerva's shocked expression. He knew the girl liked to talk incessantly but he hadn't realised what a sharp tongue she had before now.
Regaining her composure, McGonagall managed to continue with her interrogation. "But how did you survive? Where did you live? What did you live on?"
"I stayed in the cheapest B&B I could find and lived cheap. I had some money saved from the tutoring of muggle students I did over the summer. Plus I had 100 Galleons from Harry's Triwizard winnings – "
At this Snape interrupted, speaking for the first time since she had entered the room, "He just gave you 100 galleons?"
Hermione merely scoffed in response, angering Snape who demanded, "Why should you scoff at me so, Miss Granger?"
Hermione swivelled her whole body in her chair so that she could glare at Snape. "You really don't know Harry at all, do you Professor? Harry gave both Ron and me 100 galleons of the 1000 galleon prize money that he won, thanking us for our help in keeping him alive last year. He said he had other plans for the rest but wouldn't say what, though I sincerely doubt that he's kept it for a number of rather obvious reasons. Firstly, Harry has a whole vault filled with galleons so he really didn't need the prize money and, quite frankly, 800 more weren't going to make that much difference to him. Secondly, Harry was brought up by his neglectful aunt and uncle who never gave Harry so much as two pennies to rub together. He got used to never having money to spend and not having nice things and that hasn't changed since he became aware of his fortune. He still doesn't spend very much – unless it's being spent on someone else. And lastly, Harry directly associates winning the Triwizard tournament with the death of Cedric Diggory. Something he still feels responsible for and which, according to Ronald, he has to relive every night in his dreams. I know that he tried to give the money to Cedric's parents but they wouldn't take it. As far as Harry is concerned that money is tainted with Cedric's blood. – That is why I scoffed at you, Professor, because anyone who even remotely knew Harry, anyone, in fact, who even walked around with their eyes open, would never be surprised that Harry had given away that money."
Finishing her rant with a huff, Hermione turned and sat back in her chair with her arms across her chest, staring pointedly out the window. McGonagall stood agape at her best pupil's unexpected outburst. Snape too was shocked, but his anger at having been spoken to in such a manner was slowly rising to boiling point. Sensing that Severus was about to explode, Dumbledore held up an appeasing arm and turned back to Hermione.
"Miss Granger, you've explained where and how you've been living, but I'm still confused as to why you left your family home in the first place? Your parents said that you had had no argument with them beforehand and that there was no previous indication that you were unhappy or troubled."
Hermione squirmed a little in her seat. She didn't want to lie but she sure as hell wasn't going to tell them the truth. "My reasons are my own, Professor, and I'm afraid I have no intention of telling anyone what they are."
Snape rolled his eyes at what he perceived to be a display of teenage histrionics. McGonagall, however, addressed the girl kindly, "But Hermione, surely you know that you can tell us anything?"
Hermione raised her eyes to her Head of House and spoke without emotion. "I know that I can, Professor, I just don't want to." Bowing her head she continued in a quieter voice. "I don't want anyone to ever know."
"Very well, Hermione," Dumbledore said in a sad tone. "If you do not wish to tell us, we cannot force you to. Perhaps after you have spoken to your parents – "
Hermione's head snapped up. "I have absolutely no intention of speaking to my parents."
"But Miss Granger –"
"No, Professor. You may inform my parents of my safety and location if you feel you must in your capacity as Headmaster, but I will not be speaking to them. Any attempt on your part to bring them here to force me to speak to them will only result in me removing myself from this school. You can't stop me. I could easily apply to Beauxbatons, Madame Maxime said last year that I would be an asset to her school."
Hermione could tell that Dumbledore was taking her threat seriously. He wouldn't risk her leaving the school just to patch things up with her parents, so forcing her into a room with them to talk was out of the question. Instead, Dumbledore pleaded, "Hermione, your parents have been very worried about you. Anything could have happened to you."
"I stayed in muggle London so I could have dealt with any potential threat with a quick spell if necessary. I didn't mean to cause them unnecessary worry. Besides," She said with a shrug, "I left them a note."
"Insolent girl!" Snape snapped. "Do you think that a note is sufficient to assure us that you haven't been dragged off the streets by your hair into the hands of some deatheater! Do you imagine that the Order has nothing better to do than to waste its time and resources looking for you? Are you so selfish that you care nothing for the worry you caused the people who care about you while you went off gallivanting round London."
"Severus – " Albus tried to stop the escalating situation, but Snape had already said too much.
Hermione stood up, her voice low and menacing, "I was not gallivanting. You have absolutely no idea what you're talking about. I do not have to answer to the Order of the Pheonix; as I am not a member and nor am I a deatheater I don't see how they have anything to do with me. Now, as I have told you everything that I intend on telling you, I wish to return to my dormitory, if I may?" She turned to the Headmaster, seeking his consent.
"Of course, Miss Granger." He agreed with a sad smile.
"Thank you. Goodnight Professor Dumbledore. Professor McGonagall." She acknowledged the older witch with a curt nod and promptly left the office without even sparing Snape a glance.