Breakfast the next morning was an odd affair for Hermione.
It was clear from the looks she was getting that Pansy had spread the story that she was claiming to be New Blood, not a Muggleborn. Draco was giving her subtle glances all through breakfast, and Theo Nott was openly appraising her, as if she were an antique.
Hermione, following the edict of "fake it 'til you make it", chatted with Tracy and Millicent about their schedule. Transfiguration and Defense against the Dark Arts were on the schedule for today, and Millicent was not pleased with it.
"Starting the week off with Transfiguration?" she groaned. "It's one of the hardest classes. That'll be great."
"One of the hardest?" Hermione questioned, and Tracey nodded vigorously.
"Transfiguration has all these tiny wand movements, and each one means something different, plus you have to hold the transfiguration in your head as you do it… it's really hard," she said. "It's one of the most useful parts of magic, right after Charms, but only if you're good at it, and it's hard to get good at it."
"Hey, Granger," Theo said suddenly. Hermione turned, raising an eyebrow.
"I bet I can master the first assignment in Transfiguration before you can," he said, giving her a challenging grin. Hermione felt a thrill as her eyes widened – finally, the first chance to prove herself. But was she ready?
"You're on," she bet, giving him a grin back. "What're the stakes?"
"If I win, you have to be my House Elf for a week," he told her. His grin was more malicious now. "You'll have to obey every order I make, and wear the outfit, too."
Draco and Blaise were sniggering now, sharing a mean look. Hermione hid her confusion. House Elf…?
"And if I win, you have to be my bodyguard and personal assistant for the week," she retaliated. "Carry my books, throw yourself in front of me to intercept deadly curses, that sort of thing."
Theo looked somewhat alarmed that she expected deadly curses to be thrown at her already, while Tracey and Millicent were giggling. With a glance back at his friends, Theo nodded.
"Deal," he said, sticking out his hand.
Hermione took it and shook, her eyes flashing with anticipation.
Professor McGonagall taught Transfiguration, Hermione had remembered, and she happily sat in the front row, ready to learn. McGonagall had been a force at her parents' home when introducing her to magic, and Hermione didn't think she'd ever be able to look on the woman with anything but gratitude and respect, even though she was the head of a rival house.
McGonagall, for her part, nodded briefly at her when she entered, though it could have been just a nod to the students at large. Hermione made sure her things were ready. She was sitting in the front with Tracey and Millicent to her left, though they'd complained when she'd dragged them to the front row. Slytherin shared this class with the Ravenclaws, and a boy called Anthony Goldstein was sitting to her right.
McGonagall launched into her lecture with no nonsense. After a brief definition of Transfiguration, she promptly turned her desk into a pig and back, garnering awed gasps from the crowd, including Hermione.
The rest of the class, however, was highly technical. She introduced the simple wand movements necessary for "basic" level transfigurations, and there were sixteen of them. Hermione took meticulous notes, though she knew there was a reference chart in the back of her book. Sketching out the movement of McGonagall's wand as she demonstrated each gesture was a little easier to follow than the static ink-drawn pictures in the book, and she hoped it might help her more.
After demonstrating all the movements and explaining the right mindset necessary to complete a proper Transfiguration, she handed out matchsticks, and gave them their first assignment: turn the matchstick into a needle.
Hermione stared at the matchstick, almost aghast.
This was their first assignment? This?
This was the example covered in the third chapter of the book!
Knowing she needed to hurry to beat Theo, Hermione held the image of the matchstick transforming firmly in her head, wiggled her wand, and jabbed.
The matchstick transfigured into a needle.
The needle was flawless. Hermione was pleased to see that she'd even managed to keep the eye of the needle big enough to fit a thread through it this time – that was the only part she'd struggled with when she'd practiced at home.
"Oh, Miss Granger-! Well done!"
Hermione looked up to Professor McGonagall standing over her. She picked up the needle and examined it, before dropping it back on the desk, where it made a soft ting of metal.
"I have never seen a student succeed on this so quickly," she said, and Hermione thought there might be an undertone of pride in her voice. "Five points to Slytherin!"
A murmur ran throughout the class, and Hermione turned around in her seat to look at Theo, raising her eyebrows and shooting him an expectant look.
Theo was staring at her, his eyes huge.
Hermione blinked, feeling slightly uncomfortable.
Theo didn't look away, and Draco and Blaise next to him were also looking at her with darting glances, whispering to each other.
"That's enough," McGonagall commanded, and the classroom fell silent. "Back to your assignment – let's see who else can get it."
Hermione turned back around in her chair, feeling uneasy, but McGonagall gave her a small smile.
"Let's give you more of a challenge to work on, shall we?"
There was a thwock as a large wooden dowel hit her desk, and Hermione looked up at McGonagall in surprise.
"Transfigure this into a lead pipe," McGonagall instructed. "The basics for the transfiguration are the same – wood to metal, a hole in it – though the exact structure is different. The size will be more of a challenge – you will need to draw on your power more than I expect you needed to with the needle."
Hermione looked at the dowel. It sat on her desk intimidatingly, and she looked back up at McGonagall, hesitant.
"You'll get extra credit and points for Slytherin if you succeed, but don't worry if you don't – it's meant to be a challenge for you to work on and eventually overcome," McGonagall said. "You've already earned full marks for this class."
McGonagall walked away to circle through the other students, correcting wand motions and offering advice, while Hermione looked at the dowel.
Draw on her power…?
Hermione wasn't quite sure what that meant.
Focusing on the dowel, Hermione envisioned it Transfiguring, squiggled her wand and jabbed.
Just as she expected, the dowel lay on her desk, unchanged.
A larger piece of wood was bound to be harder to change. Hermione opted to not focus so much on succeeding, now, as trying to understand the other part of McGonagall's statement.
It made sense, in a way. Presuming McGonagall had been talking about magical power, it made sense in a way for Hermione to have a certain amount of magical power inside her that the wand was channeling out through her. The matchstick to needle hadn't seemed to take much – it'd been so little that Hermione had barely noticed it. But the dowel…
Focusing, Hermione attempted the transfiguration again.
This time, she could feel it, almost – something flowing out of her, attempting to encompass the wooden dowel, but falling short, and flowing back into her through the wand. It all happened so fast, it was hard to tell… but she felt like that had to be it. It had to be what McGonagall was talking about.
Hermione bit her lip. How was she supposed to use more power? Was there a way to push more out automatically?
Hermione continued experimenting, unaware of both Anthony and Tracey shooting her wide-eyed looks as they struggled with their own matchsticks.
It seemed, to Hermione, that the only way to get more power out of her was to push it out. There was nothing in her Transfiguration book about it, and Hermione guessed that maybe the "power level" she could use would go up automatically, like a muscle, as she practiced.
Her eyes narrowed. If her magic reserves were like a muscle, it was possible she could push them past their normal capability, just like an Olympian weightlifter in the heat of the moment.
Hermione raised her wand.
The bell rang a moment later, and the class around her got out of their seats, brushing by her as McGonagall assigned 6 inches on the basics of wood to metal transfiguration. Hermione blinked, coming back to herself, before hurriedly gathering up her things into her bag and leaving, trailing after the rest of her classmates.
As McGonagall went around the classroom, picking up the matchsticks, some of which students had managed to turn kind of a shiny silver, she stopped in front of Hermione's desk.
Slowly, as if someone was playing a joke on her, she reached forward and picked up the shiny pipe from Hermione's desk. As if in a dream, she dropped it.
It made a dong that reverberated within it when it hit the desk, and McGonagall made a strangled noise, as if she didn't know whether to laugh or gasp.
Taking the lead pipe and setting it aside, McGonagall finally allowed a smile to escape.
"Fifty points to Slytherin," she murmured, "for beating my own record in this class."