The next morning at breakfast Severus observed Miss Granger from his seat at the teachers' table. He was still furious that Albus had assigned him to watch over her (as if he didn't have enough to do), but Severus had to admit that he was curious as to what had caused such out of character behaviour. It was probably some childish concern that had been left to get out of hand, but one could never be too careful, after all it wasn't so long ago that a girl was being possessed by the Dark Lord, and that was before he returned with a vengeance. Severus thought back to the girl's behaviour last night and the faculty's reaction when she had stormed out.
"Well that didn't go as well as I had hoped." Albus said looking forlornly at the door through which Miss Granger had just flounced out of his office, as if it could offer him some explanation as to why the meeting had been such an unmitigated disaster. "Severus –" He began before being cut off.
"Don't you dare blame me for this fiasco, Albus! I still don't know why you insisted I attend this farce. It's not as if I'm known for my caring nature or my excellence in pastoral care. Unless you thought I could frighten the girl into telling the truth, which clearly didn't work. But, I swear to Merlin, if she speaks to me with such disrespect again, she'll be scrubbing cauldrons every night for the rest of the year."
"Severus, my dear boy, I do not blame you for anything. I was merely going to ask if you would watch over the girl and make sure she's alright."
"Absolutely not! I already watch over the Potter boy, do you think I have nothing better to do with my time than watch over errant teenagers?"
"I don't see why you should ask Severus, Albus. Surely as Hermione's Head of House that should be my responsibility." Minerva interrupted Severus' ranting feeling a bit put out that she had been so overlooked.
"Of course, Minerva." Dumbledore said, placating the witch. "There is no reason why you wouldn't do your duty as Head of House and I never expected any less of you. I only meant that as well as your ministrations, Severus should also keep an eye on the girl. She has always respected him; perhaps he can get through to her where we cannot."
"Respect?" Scoffed Severus. "If that was ever the case it certainly isn't any more. Did you not hear how she spoke to me this evening? And she was the same before, when I told her you wanted to see her."
"Yes," said Albus, stroking his beard thoughtfully. "That was rather peculiar. Can you fathom why Miss Granger's opinion of you might have taken a sudden change in direction?" He asked with no hint of sarcasm.
Severus sneered. "Perhaps the company she keeps is finally rubbing off on her."
Albus tipped his head forward and peered at Severus over the top of his half-moon spectacles. "I have told you before that you see what you want see in that regard, my boy. Now, I trust that you will watch over the girl as I have asked. As you have already said, she spends a lot of time with Harry and as you are already looking out for him, it shouldn't cause you to expend much more energy to watch over Hermione as well." Albus finished with a twinkle in his eye and a smile playing at his lips.
Severus merely huffed and swept from the office, much as the school girl had before him – although Albus knew that it would be unwise to point this out.
Now, looking at the school girl in question, Severus noticed that she staunchly refused to even glance at the head table. Observing more closely, Severus also discerned that the girl's movements were sluggish as if she were tired or else very reluctant to start the day.
Next to him, Minerva rose from her seat. "Best go and deliver the timetables; don't want to give them an excuse for being late to their first lesson," she said and strolled down to the Gryffindor table. Severus watched her from the comfort of his seat, safe in the knowledge that he had already delegated that particular task to the Slytherin prefects.
Professor McGonagall handed the timetables out efficiently. There was a collective groan from all the Fifth years as they saw that they had Potions first thing with Snape and the Slytherins. For once Hermione joined in with their groan. She really couldn't catch a break. Seeing Snape first thing on a Monday morning, particularly this morning, was really the last thing she needed. Still, she supposed it was better to get it out of the way rather than have to think about it all day.
Reluctantly, the Fifth years trudged down to the dungeons to meet their fate. Whereas usually Hermione would rush to be early, she now lingered at the back of the group with Ron and Harry, who were now doing rather accurate impressions of the loathsome Potions Master, to great comic effect, for those nearby . Upon entering the classroom, however, the three realised that they had made a fatal error in choosing to dawdle in at the last minute. The only available seats left were in the very front row where they would be particularly susceptible to attack and would be constantly observed by their teacher. The three begrudgingly took their seats and not a second later the door crashed open and in swooped a snarling Professor Snape.
Standing at the front of the room, Snape cast his eye over each of the students; Malfoy smirked, Longbottom quivered in fear, Granger…Granger kept her eyes fastidiously trained on the blackboard and refused to look anywhere else. Frowning slightly, Snape continued in his observations of the spotty, greasy haired miscreants before him; finally coming to rest on Potter's bespectacled face. Snape scowled at him before turning his attention to the rest of the class.
"As I'm sure you are all now painfully aware, this year you will sit your OWL examinations. You should know that only those students who possess determination, diligence, intellect and, of course, natural skill in brewing will be able to pass their Potions OWL. I should also inform you now that I only accept students with an Outstanding Potions qualification into my NEWTs class."
A number of students audibly gulped at the Professor's words and their harsh delivery. Hermione, though she had purposefully averted her gaze from her teacher, had listened intently to his speech, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth. She knew herself to have determination and diligence, and she would also flatter herself that she possessed a certain amount of intellect, but she did not know if she had a natural skill in brewing that would be sufficient to get the grade she required in Potions. And as for needing an Outstanding in order to take it at NEWT level, Professor Snape had only ever given her an Exceeds Expectations for her potions.
Professor Snape continued sarcastically, "Knowing how important this academic year is in the process of your education, I'm sure you have all read the 10 chapters of reading from Intermediate Potion Making that you were required to do over the summer." Snape gave them all an icy glare, as if this look alone would cause them to start spontaneously confessing their own laziness. As no one did confess, Snape said menacingly, "Let's test it shall we?" He paused to let them sweat. "Who can tell me the 3rd ingredient added to a Draught of Peace?"
Snape's eye roamed over every student waiting for an answer. No hands were raised and most were doing everything possible to avoid eye contact. "Can nobody give me an answer to such a simple question?"
Hermione looked around at her classmates. Why was nobody answering? She thought. Hermione knew the answer of course, it was written clearly in Chapter 7 of their text book, but she was supposed to be keeping her head down. Still, as the silence grew longer and Snape's expression became more irate, watching her fellow students squirm in their seats became too painful to watch and Hermione reluctantly raised her hand.
The movement caught Snape's eye and he swiftly turned his piercing gaze on her. "Yes, Miss Granger?" He snapped.
"The third ingredient is Hellebore, Sir; a highly poisonous shrub commonly found in the magical woodlands of South Wales. It must be kept at exactly 7˚C from the time it is picked until it is added to the potion or the person who drinks it will die."
"Once again, Miss Granger, you have demonstrated your uncanny ability to memorize a text book and recite the work of those with superior minds than your own."
Hermione resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Honestly, she thought, now he's just getting predictable. How exactly she was supposed to make an ingredient an original thought she had no idea, but she knew it was best to keep her mouth shut.
"I'm surprised," Professor Snape continued with a sneer, "That you found the time to memorize the text book this year – What with all your escapades over the summer."
Hermione scowled, fuming. Snape merely smirked at her reaction and starting giving the class their instructions - his little test forgotten for the moment.
Hermione was still furious though. How dare he allude to the events of the summer? Any more sly little comments like that and Harry and Ron were going to catch on. I swear to God, thought Hermione, if he says another word about it, I'm going to hex him and be damned with the consequences!
Glancing over at Harry she saw that he was looking at her with a confused expression on his face. Sure enough when Snape instructed them to begin and the students all moved towards the store cupboard for their ingredients, Harry approached her. "What did Snape mean about your 'escapades' over the summer?"
"I have no idea," she said, forcing a casual tone. "It's like he was suggesting I was up to no good or something; the paranoid git."
Ron snorted at her comment from behind her left shoulder. "Too bloody right. What a nutter." He muttered.
Harry just shrugged and went off to find his ingredients.
Hermione breathed a sigh of relief.
The rest of the class ran relatively smoothly; her potion earned her a mere nod of acknowledgement from Snape as she handed it over at the end of the lesson. Still, Hermione did not completely relax until she was out of the dungeons and the man-sized bat that resided there could bother her no longer.