Now that the Elixir was done, Hermione had to figure out how to get it to Sylvia.

Sylvia had originally kidnapped Hermione and trapped her in the Department of Mysteries. Hermione didn't fancy her chances of doing something similar. She could try and venture into the Department of Mysteries during the next Wizengamot session, but dropping off the Elixir of Life at an Unspeakable's desk during lunch break… it just didn't seem like how blackmail was done.

Hermione didn't want to owl it to her either. Not only would it raise suspicion if she were caught in the owlery, but Sylvia could claim she'd never received it and demand another dose. Plus, Hermione didn't trust Sylvia to send the Pureblood Directory back to her via owl – she needed to be there in person, face to face, to make sure she handed the original book over.

Hermione finally sent a short note to Sylvia, figuring she was the blackmailer, so she could arrange the exchange.

It's done. When can I trade you for the book?

Short, sweet, to the point, and utterly unincriminating without the proper context. Hermione sent it off with an owl, satisfied.

Her response came a day later:

I can meet you early Tuesday morning at the witching hour. Stonehenge. Find a way.

If nothing else, Hermione mused, Sylvia did have a flair for drama.

Exams began with a ringer, McGonagall requiring them to transfigure a teapot into a tortoise. Though Hermione succeeded with great aplomb, she found herself wondering if Tom knew what he was talking about, about the difference between Alchemy and Transfiguration. She'd just transfigured porcelain (which was clay and silica, probably) into something organic, and something alive. How did that make sense in his stupid atoms-molecules dichotomy comparison?

When she mentioned it to Blaise, he laughed and shrugged.

"I mean, he said he hated Alchemy," he said, eyes dancing. "Is it so inconceivable that he might be wrong?"

It wasn't, Hermione supposed. Still. It was a bit odd to think that Tom Riddle, the young Lord Voldemort, might be wrong about something to do with magic.

Charms was a written exam with a short practical that included Cheering Charms. Hermione quickly paired with Draco for this one, to Draco's surprise and Blaise's annoyance. Hermione had her reasons, though – Draco, for all his failings, was second in the class, and she didn't want to be subjected to a miscast cheering charm that might possibly risk her own performance.

Blaise ended up slightly overdoing his, and Theo ended up in fits of hysterical laughter and had to be led away to a quiet room for an hour before he was ready to perform the charm himself. Hermione smugly smirked at Blaise, who rolled his eyes and looked away.

Hagrid's Care of Magical Creatures Exam was a scavenger hunt.

"Yeh need to catch five o' the creatures in yer textbook," Hagrid told them, beaming. He handed out nets and cages. "Yeh get extra credit for creatures over five, or dangerous ones!"

They were allowed to team up. Immediately, Hermione snagged Tracey, Millie, and Harry, to Ron and Neville's objections.

"Harry's in our group! You can't just—"

"There's no limit ter how many in a group!" Hagrid said hastily, seeing Tracey finger her wand as she glared at Ron. "Just—ehh—make sure yeh each take turns capturing creatures. An' yeh need at least one fer each member o' yeh team, to be fair…"

"We need six, then," Hermione said calmly, and Ron and Neville settled down, though they still looked at her with suspicion. "Harry, go find a hippogriff. I think their paddock is behind Hagrid's hut."

"Roger that," Harry said, saluting and running off.

"Ron, can you find a gnome and a glumbumble?" Hermione asked. "You have the most experience with them, I daresay."

"I—yeah, I probably can," Ron said, scrunching his face up.

"Then go do it," Tracey urged him, and Ron grinned and ran off.

"Neville, can you get a bowtruckle?"

"Yep!" Neville ran off towards outer trees of the Forbidden Forest without further prompting.

Tracey ran to the lake to begin looking for a plimpy and a grindylow, while Millie started digging in the dirt near Hagrid's cabbage patch, looking for flobberworms. After some thought, Hermione ran down to the lake as well.

"I'm going to start a fire here!" Hermione called to Tracey. "It should be fine, but if it starts to burn out of control, just splash it out, alright?"

"Why?" Tracey asked. "What are you doing?"

Channeling her fire elemental, a small pile of twigs suddenly burst into flame.

"Trying to get ashwinders," Hermione said, grinning. "Good luck with the grindylows!"

As Hermione ran away, there was a faint awareness of the fire burning back at the lake, like a thin string of magic between her and it, the fire elemental feeding small pieces of magic to keep the flame alive.

By the end of the lesson, they'd managed a respectable showing.

"So yeh got a flobberworm, which is worth one," Hagrid said, writing in a large notebook, parchment stitched together with what looked like twine. "The gnome an' yer grindylow are worth two. Yeh glumbumble, hippogriff, plimpy, an' ashwinder, they're worth three each." Hagrid said. He looked over their assortment of creatures again. "Yeh have one fer each o' yeh, so you're good there. So far, you're in the lead." He grinned at Harry. "If yeh catch anymo' before end o' class, I'll count them too."

Harry and Ron grinned, proud, while Hermione counted on her fingers.

"He's giving us points for how dangerous they are," she realized, dismayed.

"What?" Ron asked. "He is not."

"He is. Each X rating in the Ministry of Magic classification is worth a point," Hermione said, mind racing. "If we want to win, we either need to go after a big dangerous win, or a bunch of little ones."

"There's not that many creatures we can try and get," Neville pointed out. "We're kind of limited to what's around."

"Malfoy's team just found a loose niffler," Ron said, scowling. "So we'd better figure something out. We can't lose to him."

"Agreed," Hermione said. "There's enough of us – let's split up again. There's a chance for imps, pixies, and doxies in the forest – they're not many points, but if you can get all three, that's six right there. There's a slight chance there's a kappa near the lake, which would be four points, but Lupin might not have just let it go when he was done."

"Hermione," Harry said suddenly. "You and I need to team up. I've got an idea for a big win."

Shrugging, Hermione nodded, and Harry grabbed her hand, and they ran off into the forest.

"Hagrid mentioned once about the monster he'd been raising as a kid," Harry said as they ran, jumping over fallen logs. "The one they'd blamed the Chamber of Secrets on. He said he let it go, and it ran away into the forest…"

Understanding hit Hermione in a flash.

"His pet Acromantula?!" Hermione demanded. "Are you insane?"

"Maybe a little," Harry admitted. "But you can talk to spiders, right?"

Hermione groaned. "If I die, Harry, I will haunt you for the rest of your life."

Once they were deep in the forest, with Harry guarding her, Hermione crouched on the ground to speak to a normal-size spider, expressing her desire to talk to a baby Acromantula. Harry was snickering behind her as she wiggled her bottom and bounced slightly on the ground, but Hermione was having none of it – it was his genius idea.

"We don't have too long," Harry said, glancing at his watch anxiously. "How long do you think it might take?"

"Spiders can't run very fast, Harry," Hermione snapped

"I know, but still…"

As it happened, baby acromantulas were still enormous. Hermione did her best not to panic as an enormous spider crawled towards them, pincers clicking.

You come with an offer?

If you come with us for one hour, Hermione communicated, wriggling on the ground and clicking her tongue, we will give you fresh prey.

I can catch my own prey. The Acromantula seemed insulted.

This is rare prey you will have never tasted, Hermione promised. The kind that lives in water or avoids the darkest parts of the forest.

The Acromantula examined her skeptically, its multiple glittering eyes unnerving.

You speak spider, the Acromantula said finally. I am bored enough to be intrigued. If you are lying though, human, know I will eat you instead.

Duly noted, Hermione communicated, her mind's tone dry. Follow us.

She stood, beating the dirt from her robes, and with Harry's wand on the Acromantula the entire time, they made their way back through the forest. It was terrifying to have such a large spider following her – its legspan was larger than she was tall! – but she reassured herself that if it all went to pot, she could still incinerate it in a moment with her fire magic.

They emerged from the forest just as Hagrid blew his whistle, and Harry and Hermione jogged over to their group, the Acromantula following obediently.

"What the hell is that?" Draco demanded loudly. "Potter, is that an Acromantula?"

"Jealous, Malfoy?" Harry grinned.

"Of a spider? Hardly."

However brilliant his idea, Harry hadn't taken into account Ron's fear of spiders, and as they approached, giant spider in tow, Ron began to shake.

"Why—why would you—"

He crouched down in a small ball, muttering to himself as Neville tried to talk to him to calm him down. Harry looked stricken.

"I—I wasn't thinking," he said. "It—It's worth five points, and I just thought—"

Hermione's team was declared the winner, with ten creatures captured and a total of 26 points. The nearest behind them was Draco's team, with 17. As Hagrid was saying something about how well everyone had done, Hermione hid behind Harry to crouch on the ground, communicating to the giant arachnid.

These creatures, from the water, are yours for prey, she told it. The large man will try and run you into the forest. Take your prey before he does so.

The monster's eyes glittered. Understood.

"Be ready," Hermione warned her friends. "As soon as Hagrid dismisses class, sprint for the castle. Hagrid said he'd handle returning the creatures to their natural habitat, but some of these aren't going to want to go."

Ron whimpered, and Neville nudged him, giving him a stern look.

"On your mark," Harry murmured, watching Hagrid. "Get set…"

As Hagrid dismissed them, Hermione's team all took off running, and the Acromantula pounced on the grindylow, webs shooting out to trap the gnome they'd captured as well. There were screams behind them, but Hermione's friends were all running away as fast as they could. There was the sound of feet pounding the ground behind them, and Hermione laughed, exhilarated, as they all reached the castle. The paused outside the doors, panting, and Draco Malfoy caught up to them, panting as well.

"Are you all mad?" he demanded. "That thing could have eaten any one of us!"

"I'd have destroyed it if it tried," Hermione got out, still trying to catch her breath. "Giant spiders burn just the same as normal ones."

Draco shook his head incredulously.

"Well, your spider ate your grindylow and murdered your gnome," he informed them, "so I hope you didn't make friends with either of them."

Harry looked a bit uneasy, but the glance Hermione, Tracey, and Millie exchanged was blasé. What did they care what the giant spider ate? It was all part of the food chain.

"I'll never forgive you, Harry," Ron was moaning as they went inside. "Giant spider for extra credit. I should murder Hagrid – why are those things living so near to the school anyway?"

Hermione ignored Ron and broke away to get to the dorms to change for her Potions exam.

Hermione had been right – Snape's exam tested them on Confusing Concoctions, which Hermione completed flawlessly, to an approving nod from Snape. Astronomy was at midnight, which was fine, and the next afternoon they had Herbology.

"Don't forget safety equipment!" Professor Sprout reminded them, as they began equipping themselves for an intense repotting marathon. "There will be no extra credit for risks taken here!"

The History of Magic written exam went fine, but to everyone's surprise, Lockhart had decided to include a practical portion, which Hermione hadn't expected.

"You will each be assigned a historical figure we have studied this year!" Lockhart said beaming. He went about the class, affixing small scraps of parchment to their foreheads with light sticking charms. "One by one, you must stand at the front of the room and ask the class yes or no questions about who you might be. Points will be earned for good questions and finding your correct identity; points will be lost for not figuring out your person or for answering another's question incorrectly when you are part of the quorum."

Hermione wasn't sure he was using the word 'quorum' correctly, but she imagined Lockhart had chosen it more for dramatic flourish than to be precise.

The guessing game ended up being rather fun. They learned from each other, and soon the same initial pattern of questions began to emerge.

"Am I human?" Theo asked, looking out at the class.

"Yes," they chorused.

"Am I a man?"

"Yes."

"Am I from modern history?"

"No."

Theo eventually determined he was Giles Corey, a witch caught in the American witch trials, and he went to sit down.

"Miss Granger!" Lockhart said, beaming. "You're up."

Hermione took her place at the front of the class, looking out over her peers.

"Am I human?" she asked.

"Yes," her classmates told her.

"Am I a woman?"

To her astonishment, there were uncertain looks of panic shot at each other.

"Yes…?" Justin Finch-Fletchney ventured. "I mean, maybe?"

Ernie Macmillan hissed something at him, and Justin quickly fell quiet.

"Um. Okay…" Hermione pondered. "Am I from modern history?"

"Yes." This time, the answer was definitive.

"Am I from the past twenty years?"

"Yes."

Hermione gnawed on her lip.

"Do you know my name?" she asked finally, looking out over the class.

She received blank stares for a moment.

"…no," Blaise said.

"No," Tracey repeated. "We don't."

More 'no's' echoed throughout the class, and Hermione felt like she had an idea.

"Do you know what I look like?" she asked.

"No," most of the class said.

"Yes," said a few of the Hufflepuffs.

"No, we don't!" snapped Susan Bones.

"We know what they wear," argued Hannah Abbot. "That's kind of knowing what they look like, isn't it?"

They bickered for a bit while Hermione wracked her brain.

"Am I the Unspeakable representative to the Ministry of Magic?" she finally asked.

Relieved grins broke out on her classmates' faces, but Lockhart cut them off.

"Ah, ah, ah, Miss Granger," he chided. "Which one?"

Hermione sighed.

"The one who oversaw Sirius Black's trial?" she ventured.

Lockhart beamed. "Excellent! Full marks!"

She sat down highly annoyed. No one else had gotten something nearly so difficult. Or so she thought, until it was Draco's turn.

"Am I human?"

Hermione exchanged unsure glances with her classmates. Everyone stayed silent.

"Unknown," Hermione said finally, and Lockhart nodded approvingly, making a mark on his clipboard.

Draco blinked. "Am I male?"

"No." That one, the class was sure on.

"Am I from modern history?"

"No."

When Draco finally figured out he was Circe, he was highly annoyed.

"What do you mean, you don't know if I'm human?" he demanded as he took his seat. "She's a witch, isn't she?"

"The whole reason we learned about her was because of her Time magic," Theo shot back. "Time magic means she could have been part Fae, remember?"

Draco scowled. "That's just a legend."

"Myths have their origins in reality."

At least Draco had gotten his – Daphne ended up giving up, struggling to get Artemisia Lufkin, the first woman Minister of Magic. Goyle had also given up, despite getting one of the easiest – Grindelwald. Crabbe had managed to guess his own – Dumbledore – and Hermione began wondering if Lockhart had given them specific people to scale with their level of skill in his class.

Defense Against the Dark Arts was an outdoor obstacle course, full of creatures Lupin had taught them about in class so far. Hermione had to wade across a deep paddling pool containing a grindylow, cross a series of potholes full of Red Caps, squish her way across a patch of marsh while ignoring misleading directions from a hinkypunk, and then climb into an old trunk and battle with a new boggart. Hermione was fine until she got to the trunk, which she climbed inside with little hesitation. Her eyes took a moment to adjust to the lack of bright sunlight. She held her wand aloft, ready to cast the Riddikulus charm or a Patronus if necessary, but there was nary a dementor to be found.

"Lumos."

She walked around the dark empty room, looking, when a familiar voice spoke behind her.

"You won't find anything there."

Hermione whirled around, but no one was there. A voice laughed from behind her.

"If you keep spinning like that, you'll never figure it out."

Hermione craned her head around, catching a glimpse of a figure that made her blood run cold. With a gesture, she made a fireball and set it to floating behind her, taking the Lumos off her wand, and finally, she could see what the boggart had determined was her biggest fear.

It was her shadow.

Only, it wasn't literally her shadow. It was a sort of shadow-Hermione, a textured image and figure of herself made out of darkness and gray, save two red eyes peeping out from a haze of smoky curls.

"What are you, my Dark side?" Hermione said dryly. "Sorry, but you'll have to do better than that."

The shadow figure laughed.

"I don't have to do anything," the figure said, amused. "You're already doing it all for me. You're going to commit genocide on an entire species, all by yourself. You hardly need me to encourage your darker impulses—"

"The dementors are evil," Hermione snapped. "They prey on souls."

"Yes, of course," the figure said, nodding. "I agree entirely."

"They need to be destroyed for the good of everyone."

"No objection here," the figure said, nodding again. "It's a justified extermination. Like termites in a wooden cabin."

"If it's a good thing, then why aren't you objecting?" Hermione demanded, her brave front snapping. "If you're my dark side, why are you encouraging me to do something good?"

Her shadow laughed.

"Because, Hermione, you're afraid you're not about to do something good." Red eyes smoldered at her in the darkness. "You're the one afraid you're about to destroy your soul."

"Riddikulus!"

The image of herself as a muggle fairy wasn't much, even with the golden blonde hair and harp, but it was enough to help Hermione manage a laugh, and the boggart biffed out of sight. Hermione caught her breath before climbing out of the trunk.

"Well done, Miss Granger," Lupin said, checking his stopwatch. "Full marks."

Hermione waited for her friends. Tracey did rather well until she got to the hinkypunk, which successfully confused her into sinking waist-high into the quagmire. Blaise did everything perfectly until he got to the boggart trunk, which he didn't emerge from for a solid seven minutes, making even Professor Lupin look worried.

When he finally climbed out, his eyes were red, and he walked past Lupin directly to Hermione, where he abruptly engulfed her in a hug, startling her.

"Blaise!" she exclaimed, her face coloring. "Are you okay?"

"'m, fine," Blaise said, his voice muffled in her hair. "Just… let me hold you a moment, alright?"

Hermione's arms snaked up to hug Blaise back "…alright."

Draco shot Blaise a venomous look he couldn't see, while Tracey was giving Hermione pointed looks that Hermione ignored. When it was Draco's turn to do the obstacle course, he burst from the boggart trunk in under a minute, eyes wild.

"Hermione! You—you said—" he caught sight of her still holding Blaise, nodded to himself, and turned back to the trunk. "Right—I knew it was the boggart, I just wanted to check—"

He closed himself back up in the trunk, and two minutes later, he emerged victorious, though a bit pale.

"I'm afraid I have to dock a point for your interruption with the boggart," Lupin told him, writing something down. "But overall, very well done, Mister Malfoy."

Draco scowled at Lupin as he stormed off, flashing a two-fingered salute at his back once Lupin was watching Terry Boot's attempt.

"Everyone's boggart seems to have changed," Hermione murmured, watching Draco go over to talk to Theo. Theo was still sitting very still, his eyes very wide and his face white. He'd never gone against the boggart in class, Hermione realized, so Theo must have been taken completely off-guard by what he'd seen in the trunk. "I wonder why."

"People change," Blaise said. He detached from her slowly, though he stayed close. His eyes held hers, deep and meaningful. "New things start to scare people in ways they could have never before imagined."

Hermione knew only too well just how right he was.