AN: Hello friend! This is an AU Harry Potter fanfic with an eventual Harry/Hermione pairing. The theme is SNAKES and it will be long (because this is me writing here). I have no idea how long, I just know it will definitely not be shorter than 50k, maybe even 100k+ depending on my muse and energy level. Originally this was supposed to be a short Halloween story, but I got too excited with all of the possibilities and things exploded. I also joined the Harmony facebook group, which keeps planting ideas in my head for good or ill. For this story, Harry is in Slytherin and Hermione has a secret in her blood. Quidditch will feature prominently for at least some of it. Most of the story will happen at Hogwarts (I think). As always, there will be a happy ending, but the characters will have to work to get there. If you find yourself hating it, please hit the back button and leave. Everyone naturally enjoys different things, but I don't need that kind of negativity in my life. However, I do want to know your questions, any mistakes I make that aren't obviously because this is an AU, and what you are liking in the story. I especially want to know if you are having fun reading. Enjoy!
Many thanks to my betas Iforgottocall and dizzysappedweak! My writing is better because of their efforts. Any remaining mistakes are mine.
Whispers in Her Hair
Chapter 1: First Year
Harry might've never become friends with Hermione Granger if it hadn't been for the snake. Of course he'd seen her around—it was hard not to since he sat behind her wild curls in several classes, besides which when a teacher asked a question she was always the first to eagerly thrust her hand high in the air—but he hadn't talked to her since she'd fixed his glasses on the train. She had been sorted into Gryffindor, after all, and he into Slytherin.
Slytherins didn't talk to Gryffindors, much less female Gryffindors. Not unless there was teasing involved and Harry wasn't interested in bullying anyone. He'd gotten enough of being bullied growing up. He wasn't about to start bullying others, not even if it got him the friends and belonging he'd always yearned for. Harry never wanted to look in the mirror and see Dudley or Uncle Vernon looking back at him, much less the icy self-absorption in Aunt Petunia's eyes. No, Harry wasn't going to be that kind of Slytherin, though he did want to be someone important that other people respected and looked up to.
His house traits were ambition, cunning, leadership, and resourcefulness, which all sounded pretty great. The Sorting Hat had also tacked on the phrase "at any cost," but for Harry, some costs were too high and he'd decided to reject that part as only being opinion and not mandatory. Besides, someone said the hat had belonged to Godric Gryffindor, who'd had a grudge against Salazar Slytherin and probably infected his hat with his sour grapes.
Just after sunrise one morning a few weeks after school started, the first year Slytherin and Gryffindor students were all standing outside one of the greenhouses waiting for Professor Sprout to come and unlock the door for Herbology. It was mostly quiet because everyone was cranky and tired from being up so early, so Granger's voice really carried when she exclaimed, "Oh! Where did you come from?" Curly hair sliding over her shoulder, Granger put her hands on her knees and leaned forward to look at something on the ground.
Seconds later, a green and brown patterned snake came slithering out onto the path, stopping in a patch of sunlight. He was smaller than the snake Harry had talked to at the zoo, not even the length of Harry's arm. Nevertheless he moved with fearless confidence when confronted with twenty humans all twenty to thirty times his size. Harry found it very admirable, appealing even. The snake raised his head, looked around at the waiting students, and flicked his tongue as if asking what they thought they were doing standing in his way so early in the morning. Harry felt a spurt of disappointment at not hearing the snake actually speak like last time. Maybe he had just imagined the snake speaking back to him at the zoo.
But then the snake raised his head and hissed, "Move asss-ide. I'm cold."
Eyes wide, Harry stepped closer. That had definitely sounded like words.
"You're a pretty boy, aren't you?" Granger cooed, for some reason acting like she hadn't heard the snake say anything. "What are you up to?"
"Who are you talking to, Granger?" asked Draco. When they'd first arrived he'd pushed his way past everyone to the front of the line because he wanted to be the first one inside the greenhouse. When he'd ended up surrounded by the Gryffindor girls instead of fellow Slytherins he'd just given a grumpy frown, leaned against the greenhouse wall, and yawned, seemingly too tired to complain about it.
Sighing, Hermione straightened up and gestured. "The snake of course."
"What?" Draco craned his neck around her and the other girls to look down. Everyone followed his glance. The snake twisted sinuously in the air, scales gleaming in the early morning sunlight. He flicked his tongue and looked back at Draco.
"Snake!" Draco cried, scrambling back, arms windmilling.
As if his words had shattered a bubble, screams filled the air as students scattered like dropped marbles. Draco, Lavender Brown, and Parvati Patil cowered together on top of the bin next to the door of the greenhouse, Draco's slicked back blond hair almost disappearing beneath the black sleeve of Parvati's robe as they attempted to climb over each other to get even higher off the ground, all three shrieking like rusty hinges on a screen door.
Harry put a hand over his mouth to hide a snicker and looked around. He and Granger were the only ones not running away.
"Oh, honestly!" Shaking her head with a loud huff, Granger reached out and, without hesitating, plucked the snake off the ground, holding it just behind the head and allowing it to coil around her wrist.
"Are you mental!?" Ron Weasley exclaimed from where he watched around the corner of the greenhouse, his face almost as red as his hair. "You're going to get bit and die!"
"Kill it before it gets the rest of us!" Draco cried, face sandwiched between Lavender's and Parvati's shoulders from where he'd pulled them in front of himself. The girls were staring at their roommate with horrified eyes.
"No, don't," Harry exclaimed involuntarily.
His words were drowned out by Vincent and Greg, who'd started chanting, "Kill it, kill it, kill it!" Those two always parroted whatever Draco had to say.
Mouth pursing and curls practically standing on end, Granger pulled the snake to her chest and glared around. "You'd think you Slytherins would be better about snakes, considering it's the symbol of your house."
Faltering, the chanting boys looked to Draco for direction.
"That's— that's not the same," Draco said unsteadily after having been pushed off the bin by Lavender and barely managing to land on his feet. Strands of gelled blond hair stuck up from his head like a cockatoo.
"Snakes are perfectly safe as long as you're knowledgeable, respectful, and careful," Granger lectured, nose in the air before looking down at her captive. "Now where should I put you where you won't get into any trouble?"
"I was going to the big rock behind the greenhouse," Harry heard the snake grumble, or at least he thought he did, but once again, no one else seemed to be reacting to his voice.
Granger was looking in the wrong direction altogether, so Harry, feeling strangely nervous, stepped forward. "That big rock behind the greenhouse looks warm."
Granger flashed him a bright smile. It was a nice smile and her front teeth weren't that big, no matter what Draco said. "At least one of you snakes knows what you're talking about. Thanks, Potter," she said, which made him stand taller as she went to release the snake where he'd suggested. Harry watched them go, wondering if the snake would speak again and if Granger would hear it this time.
"Yeah, thanks, Potter," Blaise teased in a high-pitched voice, blinking exaggeratedly as he nudged Harry and pursed his lips. Expression souring, Harry nudged him back. Their shoulders pressed tight as each strained to topple the other over. Being bigger and taller, Blaise started to win, so Harry shot out his fingers and tickled his opponent's side, causing Blaise to flinch back and almost fall over.
"Tickle attacks are cheating!" Blaise laughed, holding his side and staying out of reach.
"Not if they help me win," Harry grinned and flexed his fingers, having learned that lesson rather quickly in Slytherin.
Of the Slytherin boys, Blaise Zambini was the friendliest and Harry's best mate so far. Theo Nott was a bit more reserved, but nice enough. Draco Malfoy blew hot and cold depending on the day, sometimes acting like Harry was his best friend and other times his bitter rival, always keeping Harry on his toes. It would be easier if he could just hate Draco, but Draco knew all sorts of interesting things and was loads of fun when he wasn't being an arrogant prat. Harry wanted to be friends with Draco. However, keeping Draco friendly and humble wasn't easy with the way Greg Goyle and Vincent Crabbe, the last two boys in their dorm, followed Draco around like he was their king and practically begged him to boss them around.
Greg and Vincent were chunky, slow-witted, and prone to shoving around smaller kids. Unsurprisingly, Harry was one of those smaller kids. When he unexpectedly caught sight of them coming his way, especially during that first week at Hogwarts, he found himself lowering his head and shrinking down, as if it was Dudley lumbering towards him instead. He hated that they could make him feel like that because having magic was supposed to be his ticket to freedom, safety, and respect. Whenever it happened he found himself wanting to retreat from eating in the Great Hall surrounded by staring strangers and hide out in an unused classroom eating the apples and rolls he'd learned from a young age to always squirrel away in his bag, except that Harry didn't want to be the kind of person who had to hide away anymore. At Hogwarts he was going to be someone different and better. He was determined to be better.
Luckily Greg and Vincent had mostly stopped bothering Harry as much after they'd gotten into a big fight last week. He'd been doing okay trying to just keep his head down and avoid their pinches and shoves, but then he'd caught them tormenting Hedwig in the Owlery and lost his temper completely, attacking them wildly and ignoring the pain from their fists until they'd both retreated. It had somehow scared the boys, though they'd still left him with a bloody lip and several big bruises while he'd barely scratched them. His refusal to act hurt or tell on them to the teachers afterward earned their respect. Now when he came upon one of them alone they were sometimes even nice to him, though Greg more than Vincent.
It had taken a few days for Harry to notice, but as soon as he was no longer at the bottom of the pecking order, everyone in Slytherin started treating him better, even the older students in his house. Status was something they all seemed to pay attention to. If Harry was going to succeed here, he'd have to start doing the same.
Professor Sprout arrived before Harry and Blaise could resume their friendly scuffle and unlocked the greenhouse door. "Alright class, everyone inside. Hurry up, now." Blaise fell in by Harry's side, tussle forgotten as they went into the humid greenhouse, fanning their robes at the heat.
When class ended, Harry found himself walking back to the castle just behind Granger's bouncing curls. He'd never met anyone with curly hair like hers, but had once overheard her telling someone that it was common in Greek families like her mother's. Although wild and bushy, the curls looked soft and were made up of so many different shades of brown that Harry kept finding new hues whenever he looked.
Sitting behind her in class, he sometimes had to fight the itch in his fingers. He didn't want to be weird, but sometimes he thought about secretly reaching out and touching one to see what her hair really felt like. Other times he had the strangest urge to try and organize the chaos, wanting to lift the perfect spirals to the top and away from their crazier sisters. It may be an unpopular opinion amongst fellow Slytherins like Draco, but Harry liked her hair. If nothing else, it kept him entertained during Professor Binn's droning lectures during History of Magic.
As he watched Granger walking alone back to the castle, the other Gryffindors keeping their distance, he thought about speeding up a bit to join her. Maybe he could ask how Granger got so comfortable handling snakes. It seemed like a great excuse to finally talk to her and maybe even become friends. Considering how smart she was, maybe she'd also know why he could hear snakes talking when no one else seemed to.
However, just then Draco popped up, followed as always by Vincent and Greg. "So Potter, I've been meaning to ask, what's your favorite position in Quidditch and which team do you follow?"
"For the hundredth time, Draco, just call me Harry, and what's Quidditch? Some type of sport?"
Draco stared at him in horror and pressed a hand to his chest. "Potter—Harry—please tell me you're joking." On seeing Harry's blank face, Draco groaned and staggered to the side theatrically before waving his arms wildly to gather the other Slytherin boys. Cupping his hands around his mouth, he hollered, "Potter doesn't know about Quidditch and needs another intervention!"
Everyone on the path turned to look at Harry like he was a freak. He hated it.
"What? That's just sad," Theo said, shaking his head.
"Totally tragic, mate!" Blaise exclaimed.
No matter how useful these interventions eventually ended up being, Harry hated it when Draco publicly called for one and made him a figure of pity, especially because he half-suspected that Draco was purposely trying to make him feel ignorant as a power play to make himself look better in contrast.
Even some of the Gryffindor boys got in on the action on hearing the topic was Quidditch, talking over each other and acting out the different positions in concert with the Slytherins. Just like in the Muggle world, sports were both unifying and divisive. The brief truce ended when Weasley and Draco got into a fight over whether the Falcons or Cannons had better keepers. In all the commotion Harry got distracted and completely forgot about his plan to befriend Granger.
Later that night while hanging out in the common room studying and competing to see who could balance a chair on two legs the longest without falling over, Harry looked over at one of the many medieval tapestries blanketing the black stone walls of the dungeon and saw a head of wild curls, though the curls were snakes instead of hair. It reminded him quite suddenly of Granger. "Huh." Distracted, he lost his balance and his chair slammed forward onto all four feet, which was jarring but not as bad as Vincent, who'd fallen backwards and gotten a goose egg on the back of his head.
"Hah, I win!" Draco gloated, throwing his hands up in the air just as his chair lost the fight with gravity and fell forward too.
Blaise rolled his eyes. "Harry would've had it if he hadn't let himself get bored and distracted." Looking between the tapestry and Harry, he arched a brow. "So what's so special about Aglaia and the Gorgons?"
In the first panel of the tapestry, titled Aglaia the Unforgiving Bargains with the Gorgons and Creates the Draught of Living Death, a dumpy young witch in green and silver Slytherin robes (presumably Aglaia) was surrounded by a group of laughing and pointing young men. One of the smirking men had yellow-green magic streaming from his wand and was obviously in the act of hexing her. The second panel showed Aglaia with a green scarf over her eyes floating a hogtied man over to a coven of Gorgon, creatures from Greece with snakes for hair and hideous faces that turned anyone who looked at them into stone. Nothing was known about the males or how they reproduced, but female Gorgons, Medusa being the most famous, were said to be extremely vindictive and take vicious pleasure in punishing men who hurt women, regardless of species. The blood of a Gorgon had powerful magical properties to both hurt and heal but was almost impossible to obtain. Most who tried never returned.
The female Slytherin prefect who'd given the first years a tour and explained about Gorgons and the tapestry had taken great relish in emphasizing how violent and vindictive a woman could be when crossed. The boys had all been biddable as lambs for the rest of her tour, just in case. In the weeks to come, Harry had learned that while some Slytherin boys could be mean, the girls were by far the scariest people in his house. They were less likely to go out of their way to bully someone or pull a prank, but when offended their retaliation was painful, humiliating, and public.
The third panel in the tapestry showed a blindfolded Aglaia laughing and holding out an open vial for the blood dripping from the hand of a Gorgon labeled Medusa. Unlike the other Gorgons, Medusa didn't look ugly or evil, she looked like a very pretty young woman with a head full of mischievously curling bronze and gold snakes, a smile curving her pink lips, and eyes glinting with wicked humor, as if the two women were sharing a good joke instead of filling a vial of blood. In the scene's background, the other Gorgons ripped the shackled man apart.
The tapestry went on to show Aglaia pouring the blood onto an orange-stemmed plant in her garden, turning the greenish-yellow peapods reddish-black. She harvested the plant, brewed a pink potion, and poured several drops into a wine bottle. The men from the first scene drank the wine from golden goblets and fell to the floor, their waxy faces appearing next in their beds, unable to be awakened by their wailing families.
The final image showed a mature and confident Aglaia posing triumphantly in her potions lab. Chests along the walls overflowed with golden galleons and rich treasures, but Harry always thought her most important treasure was shown by the way the artist had highlighted the gaudy wedding ring on her wand hand and the sunlit portrait of herself and her beaming husband holding the hands of two happy children on the wall at her back. The unconscious body of the man who'd hexed her in the first scene sprawled at her feet, desperate-faced people knelt on the floor below him with clasped hands raised in pleading, and more people patiently waited outside the doors with their heads bowed in respect. The bubbling cauldrons on either side of the scene held the pink Draught of Living Death and its yellow antidote.
Some days, Harry found Aglaia very inspirational.
Remembering Blaise's question, Harry cleared his throat and gestured at the woman in the middle panel. "Today's class with the snake made me think of Medusa."
"What, that she's hot?" Miles Bletchley asked in passing as he snatched one of the licorice wands from the pile on the table in front of Theo. "Puberty hitting early, little Harry?" Licorice hanging out of his mouth, the fifth-year shot a teasing grin over his shoulder.
Harry felt his face turn red.
Vincent and Gregory guffawed and Blaise snorted, while Theo glared at Miles and pulled the package of licorice under the open cover of his textbook.
Staring at Aglaia's tapestry, Draco tilted his head to the side, wrinkled his nose, and shrugged. "Maybe she'd be hot if she wasn't a dirty creature with snakes for hair."
"Snakes or not, tapestry Medusa is hot and has curves in a-a-all the right places," called Terence Higgs from the couch without lifting his head from his book, Quidditch Through the Ages.
At dinner, Harry had learned that Terence played seeker on the Slytherin team. On hearing Draco's announcement that Harry didn't know anything about Quidditch, Terence had spent most of the meal trying to convince Harry to try out for the reserve team when he was old enough and monologuing about the need for more finesse during gameplay from the Slytherin team, who was famous for using brute force. When Harry had pointed out that he'd never even sat on a broom before, much less observed a Quidditch game or formed an opinion about their house team, Terence had paused for only a moment before laughing and saying that this was Harry's chance to form the right opinions before the rest of Slytherin ruined him, to which Miles had looked over to tease, "Unlike the rest of us who play, Terence considers himself an artiste instead of just an athlete."
"I'm a seeker! Of course I see things more clearly than the rest of you louts," Terence had replied, sticking his nose up in the air only to be hit in the face by a glob of mash potatoes. In the ensuing foodfight, Miles and Terence had both ended up with pickled beets in their ears before uniting to fight against the rest of the table. While everyone was busy looking their way, Harry had poured gravy over Draco's perfectly slicked back hair in thanks for how he kept bringing up Harry's ignorance.
"You can't argue with a seeker's eyes when it comes to women," nodded Miles in response to Terence's comment on tapestry Medusa. Face still buried in his book, Terance held up his hand as Miles passed by and received a high-five. Miles slurped around his licorice wand and flung himself into an armchair in front of the fire, throwing a leg over the arm.
"Well, Harry?" Blaise asked with a smirk, leaning forward in his chair. "Was that it? Distracted by a pretty face?"
"No—well, yes, but not exactly. I just realized, especially after that snake in herbology today, but doesn't Medusa sort of, well, doesn't she look like a grown up version of Hermione Granger?" Harry asked awkwardly, making sure to keep his voice low.
"What? No!" Draco snapped, looking aghast. "If Medusa's hot then she can't be Granger. Don't be disgusting."
"Does Harry have a little crush on the Gryffindor know-it-all?" Blaise smirked and wiggled his fingers around his face as if imitating her curly hair.
"No! Of course not! I was just—I only meant because of the curls and the smile—oh, nevermind." Flushing hot and then cold, Harry shrank down in his chair and tried to ignore the laughter. "Remember that I wasn't the one running from the snake this morning and shrieking like a baby," he muttered when the laughter showed no signs of stopping.
Blowing out his breath, Harry forced himself to sit down and picked up his discarded quill. "I guess this Potions essay isn't going to write itself." Harry was struggling in all of his classes, the world of magic so radically different from his previous experiences in the Muggle school system, but Potions was the worst, followed closely by Charms and Transfiguration.
Draco snorted and looked over. "I don't know what you did, but Snape definitely dislikes you. If he weren't our Head of House I bet you'd have lost us twenty points already, easy."
"Gee, thanks Draco. Nice to know I have your support," Harry said dryly.
"Maybe he'd like you better if you gave him a gift," Greg suggested slowly. He sounded serious. Everyone at the table turned to look at him.
"Really, Goyle?" Draco stared incredulously at Greg.
"Like what?" Harry asked.
After a beat of silence, Theo gave a slow, closed-mouth smile. "Flowers? Greasy black ones to match his hair?" There was a burst of shocked laughter.
Blaise snorted and leaned forward. "Or dark chocolates to match the sunken pits of his eyes?"
"No, even better, poetry comparing him to a summer night!" Draco suggested gleefully, slapping the table.
"Jewelry!" Vincent said with a giggle.
They were all laughing now.
"I've got it!" Harry said, having trouble speaking through his snickering. "What—what do you think he'd do if—if I got him one of those best friend necklaces," Harry had to pause a second to wheeze, "the ones girls have where you each—each keep one half of the heart!?" Blaise was laughing so hard he fell out of his chair, Draco was holding his stomach and giggling, and Vincent and Greg started snorting like pigs. Harry put his head down on the table, hardly able to breathe.
A pillow landed in the middle of the table, smacking Harry in the face, scattering their scrolls, and knocking over pots of ink. Harry looked up to see Adrian Pucey glaring at them. "Oi, you blokes are disgusting! Some of us are trying to work and you're giving us all nightmares. Cut it out before Snape comes in, takes away points, and gives us all detentions!"
Cleaning up the mess, occasionally meeting each other's eyes and breaking into giggles, the table of first years returned to their homework once more in charity with each other.
And if the hot Medusa in the tapestry still reminded Harry of a grown-up Hermione, well, he decided to keep that to himself.
The next week brought the high of flying on a broom, which Harry found as brilliant and easy as anything he'd ever done. Unfortunately, that was the only thing going right in his life.
Maybe Harry's relatives had been right—maybe he really was stupid. He could barely get his wand to do anything. Every day he fell more behind in Transfiguration and Charms. He also kept getting almost crippling headaches in Defense Against the Dark Arts, making it hard to focus. Maybe he wasn't really magic, maybe it had all been a mistake. Even Greg and Vincent—even the stupid Gryffindors—were getting it faster than he was. Harry hadn't turned in his last two assignments, not because he hadn't worked on them, but because he'd been too ashamed to turn in his obviously failed attempts in front of everyone else and risk public mocking. He couldn't tell his roommates because they'd lose all respect for him and stop being his friends. No one wanted to be friends with a dumb loser.
What would he do if he failed his classes, disappointed his teachers, and got kicked out of school? Would they take away his magic? Would he even be allowed to go back to Muggle school? Or would he end up with no education working as child labor in some dirty factory while sleeping in the Dursley's cupboard under the stairs again?
Chest tight as he walked past the abandoned Quidditch pitch, Harry remembered Madam Hooch saying that students were welcome to practice mounting a broom and doing simple flights if they felt they needed it before the next lesson. Harry didn't need practice, but he might as well take the opportunity to fly while he still had it. Who knew when it would be taken away?
Morosely making his way to the broom shed, Harry was surprised to see Granger standing outside. He hesitated in the shadows of the building, in no mood for company.
Granger had her hair tied back in a messy bun, curls sticking up everywhere like exploding streamers. Turning so her face was in profile, she looked down at a broom on the ground and bit her lip. "Okay, get up. Come on, up," she begged. There were tears in her eyes. "Up." The broom rose a few inches and then plopped back onto the ground, nowhere near her hand. "Come on, please." She took a shuddery breath and swiped at her eyes.
She hadn't seemed that bad during class, though she'd obviously struggled and been one of the last people off the ground. The only one slower had been her housemate, Neville Longbottom, who'd lost control of his broom, fallen off, and broken his arm. Maybe that had scared her enough to send her back to scratch.
He and Granger were such opposites. He wasn't good at anything but flying a broom and she was seemingly brilliant at everything but flying. As Harry watched her fail over and over again, an idea formed in his mind. Slytherins didn't really ask for help, but they did exchange favors. And if he was really cunning, he would make the other person think it was their idea. Granger was smart, so he'd have to come at it sideways.
Taking a quick breath, heart thumping, Harry tried to channel Draco at his most confident as he boldly stepped out of the shadows. "Treat it like the snake, Granger."
She jumped, pressing a hand to her chest as her head swivelled around to watch him. "What? Potter?" Crossing her arms and raising her chin, cheeks flagging red in her pale face, Granger warily watched Harry grab another broom from the shed and come back out to join her. "What do you mean, treat it like the snake? Is that some broom flying secret code that they don't teach Muggleborns?"
Brushing hair off his face, Harry looked at her through his lashes and decided not to mention that he was raised Muggle too. "I don't know about that, but the other day before Herbology you seemed comfortable and confident dealing with that snake. You also don't seem to have a problem talking to a snake like me." He shrugged, trying not to sound as nervous as he felt. "Approach your broom the same way and you'll be flying in no time."
"You're a nice boy, not an evil broom, and my mom keeps snakes as pets. I'm used to snakes." She glared at the broom at her feet so hard that Harry wouldn't have been surprised to see it combust in a burst of accidental magic.
He wanted to smile at being called nice, but tried to remember his goal here. He shouldn't look too eager or desperate. He should listen to his own advice and act comfortable and confident, ignoring the sweat trickling down his back at finally having a personal conversation with a girl, much less a girl like Hermione Granger, the brilliant witch with curly hair who looked like hot Medusa.
Harry dropped his broom and didn't wait for it to hit the ground before saying, "Up!" The handle smacked eagerly into his hand. Harry couldn't stop his grin that time. He let the broom start to fall and then called it back again. "Up!" Why couldn't the rest of his life be this simple?
"So you've never had to sweep a floor before, Granger?"
Sighing, Granger watched him with obvious envy. "Sweeping dirty floors with a broom has no relation to flying one high up into the air where you can fall and break your head open. My brain's the only thing I have going for me."
"And your curls," Harry said without thinking. A pink blush flooded her cheeks as she looked down. Harry blushed too. He was glad she wasn't looking at his face.
He dropped his broom again just to watch her eyes follow the arc of its path from his hand, down to almost touch the ground, and up into his hand again.
She sighed again and toed at the ground. "You make that look so easy."
"Well, you make classwork look easy. Unlike me." Harry reminded himself of his goal here. Slytherin cunning. This wasn't just about finally talking to her.
She just nodded, not seeming to rise to the bait.
"You're good at classwork, I'm good at flying brooms…" Harry trailed off, feeling like he was being too obvious. His palms started to sweat against the pitted and scarred handle of the school broom.
As the silence stretched and the tension rose, Harry decided to give up on being subtle and cunning. After all, the Sorting Hat had almost put him in Gryffindor and they did say fortune favored the bold. He could practice being a better Slytherin another time when he wasn't at risk of getting expelled.
"Will you tutor me?" Harry and Granger both spoke at the exact same time. Meeting each other's wide eyes in surprise, they both blurted, "Yes!" before dissolving into laughter.
"Well to start with, Harry, why don't you call me Hermione instead of Granger." She held out her hand with a smile full of bright white teeth and crinkled brown eyes that sparkled with happiness. Her curls stuck out from her head like happy little exclamation marks. "Study partners should be first name friends."
Harry shook her hand with a matching grin, her palm fitting perfectly into his own. "Okay, Hermione. Friends." His chest filled with warmth. He had the strange thought that he'd just discovered something that might be even more brilliant than flying.
But that wasn't the kind of thing you could just tell other people, especially not people like his roommates. Harry decided then and there that if anyone ever asked, he'd tell them that having a Gryffindor as a friend was a perfectly Slytherin thing to do because having friends and allies in other houses, especially your traditional rival, was both resourceful and cunning. If pressed, he'd mention that she was brilliant, had agreed to tutor him, and could be a helpful resource in the future.
No one needed to know he really just wanted Hermione as a friend for himself. Even more than power and respect, Harry dreamed of an end to his loneliness. A loving family was out of his reach, but friends, especially good friends who knew all his secrets, loyally had his back, and never tore him down to lift themselves up—that didn't seem like too lofty a dream. Blaise and Draco were his first and best friends here, but sometimes it felt like if he messed up they'd turn their backs on him. He didn't know if Hermione would be any better, but looking into her warm brown eyes, he couldn't help the gentle flutter of hope.
By the end of the week, Harry was once again turning in his homework, even if he still wasn't anywhere close to getting top marks. Hermione, however, had stalled at getting her broom more than six feet off the ground. They'd decided to combine their tutoring sessions into one meeting, with Hermione helping Harry with magical concepts while Harry helped Hermione get more confident with flying.
"You're overthinking again." Harry swept by on his broom over her head and did a sloth roll, just for fun. "Just send it forward. I know you can do it. You know you can do it."
"Stop going upside down, you're making me nauseous." She pursed her mouth and sent her broom moving forward in a wobbly line, but at least she was moving.
"Good job. When you're comfortable I want you to make a gentle turn to the left. We're going to go in a loop around the Quidditch field. On the second lap, we'll try adding in a few dips and elevations." About to roll upside down again, Harry saw her looking at him with pursed lips and jerked himself back upright just in time. He swallowed a sigh and promised himself he'd take some time to go crazy and experiment on the broom after Hermione had returned to the castle. In the meanwhile he floated by her side, trying to be encouraging.
"If my problem is overthinking," Hermione said shakily after finishing her first lap, eyes locked on her whiteknuckled fingers wrapped around her broom handle, "yours is your accent. It never changes and it needs to."
Harry abruptly rose in the air, the broom reacting to his frustration. "Why? What does it matter if I sound like a prat or not? I talk the way I talk." Blowing out his breath, he forced himself to slow his pace so as not to lose Hermione. "Second lap. Let's go a little higher."
"Only a little." Her broom rose almost imperceptibly in the air.
"Look Hermione, when I try talking differently I just sound stupid and my spells still don't work. I don't get why the accent even matters as long as I get the wand movements right and the words close enough."
"Okay, maybe I'm going about explaining this the wrong way. Do you understand the nature of wild magic?"
"Not really?" Harry hovered his broom at her shoulder and tried to remember if he'd ever read anything about that. "I assume wild means it hasn't been focused by a wand yet. Maybe?"
Hermione drifted up instead of craning her neck to keep talking to him. "That's close. Magic is a force that can be found everywhere in varying degrees of concentration, but it can only be made physically manifest through others. It is dependent, not independent. Without an outside force acting upon it, organizing or unravelling it, wild magic itself has no influence on the physical world. I read that the first magic was probably accidentally gathered and used by plants and animals for basic needs like food, shelter, protection, and reproduction. Over time, thinking creatures learned to use it to do more complex tasks."
"Hence the use of wands, right? To organize it?"
"Right." She flashed him an approving smile and copied his movements, sending her broom gently swishing from side to side. "Here in Europe and many parts of the world we use wands, while in much of Asia they use strings of beads. Africans and Native Americans favor musical instruments like drums or flutes, though the flute is popular in China as well. Different tools for the same purpose."
Harry thought through the implications. "Then why can't I just swish my wand and tell my feather to float in class? Why does the shape of my wand movement and the weird words matter?"
"That's a good question. I wondered that myself when I first started learning about magic. One of the reasons is that magic has memory. Wands help gather magic into a specific shape, while verbal spells remind the gathered magic of a purpose it's taken before. That combines with the caster's thoughts and intention towards the spell to organize the power into a specific outcome." Hermione was using her hands to talk, steering the broom mostly with her knees and a few fingers. It made Harry want to grin with pride except he was afraid if he pointed it out he'd jinx it.
"Okay, but why do I have to use ancient Latin instead of modern English?" Harry kept drifting up and Hermione unconsciously followed, until their brooms were level with the bottom row of seats in the first tower, much higher than Harry had expected her to be willing to go today. He leveled out his broom and decided not to point out her achievement until later, in case she hadn't noticed yet.
"Most spells we learn are similar to Latin because they were created, written down, and codified when Latin was the main language of Europe. That was our magical renaissance. Take the spell wingardium leviosa. Based just on the words alone, we can assume that the spell was created by some witch in a village far from the capital with a nonstandard Latin dialect. From what I've read about spell creation, it is supposedly extremely difficult and not something modern magicals spend much time doing compared to working with already organized magic in the creation of potions and artifacts. I'm not sure if that's laziness, tradition, or lack of ability in modern witches and wizards."
Harry was glad they were flying with the wind cutting briskly through his hair or else he might be falling asleep. "Hermione, my eyes are starting to cross. Where were you going with this story of a witch from a small village?" He wove his broom in and out of the goal posts and Hermione doggedly followed.
"Okay Harry, look, that ancient witch wanted to make something float. She figured out how to focus a large amount of wild magic, shape it with a wand pattern to embody the idea of floating, and then imprint the magic with both the idea and the words of what she wanted. Remember how I said that magic has memory? Once imprinted, magic becomes fixed and won't react that way to any other stimulus."
"You can't get the same effect with a wand without the same sounds. The words 'wingardium leviosa' basically mean, 'lift steeply like a wing.' The magic now reacts the same way every time that process is repeated, but it's the shape of the magic that's important, not the wand motion or the words. Most people just need help shaping magic correctly and exactly. If you created a spell to levitate something today—which you could only do if there was no other wand-based spell to levitate things fixed in magic's memory yet—students in the future wouldn't be saying wingardium leviosa, they'd be saying levitate or fly like a kite in English."
"Okay, that's interesting, but how does that help me to cast better spells now?" Harry asked, leading Hermione up and down in the air like the gentlest and slowest of roller coasters.
"Your wand gathers and focuses the magic for you, pushing it into shape. Your words and thoughts remind it of what it's supposed to be doing. Magic isn't smart or intuitive. It can't read between the lines or understand if there are missing letters. It needs to see the exact shape and hear the same sounds to understand and respond. A book I read compared it to a key and lock or a simple input/output equation. Ancient magic is never lost, just people's memory of how to cast it. If you found a spellbook from thousands of years ago the spells would still work. If someone gained and then passed on certain magical gifts to their offspring, and then those gifts disappeared over centuries of mixing blood through marriage, those magical gifts could be reawakened as long as the person had enough unused magic gathered in their core and something reminded the magic in their body what shape it was supposed to take, though my book said that because most families are super secret about things like blood magic that it makes it hard to rediscover the original ritual or spell used by an ancestor to spark the memory. Of course, that also means that there are always new spells to discover and create if we can just figure out how, only limited by our imagination." Her eyes glittered with excitement.
"It would be cool to create our own spells," Harry said, doing a corkscrew dive before pulling back up to make sharp pleats back and forth in the air. "Like one where I didn't need glasses." He pushed his back up his nose with a sigh for the hundredth time that flight.
"I know, right?" she said, leaning over her broom to keep talking to him as he flew beneath her. "And if you can mentally picture the shape and outcome of a spell with enough focus while releasing a burst of gathered magic, that's casting a silent, wandless spell, though it's supposed to be extremely difficult and requires a very disciplined mind. I think I can get to that point someday if I work hard enough. Maybe we can work on it together." Grinning, she glided down to join him. "But until then, you need to speak a spell exactly like the person who first created it to make it work, bringing us back to your accent."
"Are you sure there aren't any spells in English?" Harry saw Hermione drifting a little close to the wall of the tower in her distraction and nudged her knee to turn her broom farther from danger.
Hermione shrugged and shook her head. "Not that I've seen in any of our first year textbooks, nor from any of the older students, which brings us back round to my first point. If you want to get better you need to work on your accent."
"I heard you the first twenty times," Harry said under his breath, feeling grumpy.
"Look, pretend you're an actor like someone on the telly, er, I mean in a play." Tucking a curl behind her ear, she looked down and away, adding under her breath, "You probably don't know or care what a telly is." Her lips turned down.
Harry had quickly learned to bite his tongue about his home life and Muggle past when in the Slytherin dungeons, but talking to Hermione felt different. She made him feel brave. "Actually, I was raised by my Muggle relatives. I only learned I had magic when I turned eleven this last summer, probably a lot like you. I wasn't allowed to watch the telly, but I do know what you're talking about."
"Yeah?" She sped up on her broom until she could look him in the face. Her eyes narrowed. "If you're like me then how are you so good at flying?"
Laughing, Harry executed a quick loop around her broom and led her up towards the top of the towers. "I dunno, flying's easy."
"For you." She scowled at him, cheeks puffing and her curls seeming to get larger. It was adorable, but she'd probably hit him if he told her that.
"Hermione," he said, voice unsteady with the laughter he was trying to suppress, "just look at yourself. Look around. You've been flying great this entire lecture, so obviously you're good at it too."
"Oh!" As if only now realizing how high up they were, Hermione's broom jerked in her hands like she'd hit a patch of bumpy air. Harry zipped over and positioned his broom below her in case she fell, but after a moment she returned to smooth sailing. "Huh, maybe I am overthinking it." She looked around with wonder, her hands relaxing again.
Seeing the breeze tossing her curls and the pink in her cheeks, Harry felt warm inside. "Flying is fun, isn't it?"
They glided peacefully for a few moments before she looked over at him with a soft smile. "You know, I think it is. Thanks, Harry."
Full of happiness, he smiled back.
By the end of term, both of them were doing well in their difficult subjects. Even the troll in the castle at Halloween and Hermione having to put the dexterity she'd learned on a broom to work racing around the girl's bathroom to keep from being squashed before the teachers arrived hadn't set their studies back. Harry feared it would mean the end of their friendship now that Hermione didn't need his help learning to fly anymore, but she thwapped him on the head with a book when he mentioned it.
"Ouch!" he rubbed his head and watched her warily. They were walking outside towards the broom shed for what he'd feared would be their last flight.
"We still have loads of stuff to learn. There's no reason we can't keep studying together, maybe even in the library for once," she sniffed and arched one brow. "You know, that place full of books where normal people study?"
"Har har." Harry tossed the ball in his hand up in the air and tried to look like his chest wasn't about to burst from happiness. "I suppose we can do the library sometimes, but I still want to keep up with our flights. You're finally starting to get good and I don't want you to lose all of that progress. Besides, playing catch while studying is loads more fun than sitting at a table."
He caught the ball and then tossed it over to Hermione with no warning. It improved her reflexes and situational awareness and helped Harry with his training to become the next Slytherin seeker. He'd almost made the reserve team this year except that Snape had refused to sign off on Harry's participation, using the excuse that Harry didn't have his own broom and that they were against the rules for first years, making practicing with the team impractical. Admittedly, first years normally weren't allowed to play anyway, but Terence had suggested that Harry might be good enough to make an exception. Next year nothing was going to hold him back, even if he had to trick Hagrid so he could sneak extra money from his vault to buy himself a broom.
"I like sitting at library tables," Hermione huffed, catching the ball with a spark in her eye, "and you can't write essays or take notes up on a broom!" She threw the ball back hard.
"That's why we'll compromise," Harry said, catching the ball even though the throw had gone wide. Hearing her stomach growl, Harry reached into his bag and pulled out an apple, tossing it with as little warning as the ball. He trusted Hermione to catch it.
Even though food was always plentiful here at Hogwarts, he still hadn't quite gotten out of the habit of squirrelling away extra food. Just in case. Besides, it proved helpful with certain friends who spent meals reading instead of eating. "Feed the beast before it escapes and mauls someone."
Rolling her eyes, Hermione took a crunchy bite of the apple, wiping the juice off her chin with the back of her hand. "Thanks. I wish the boys in my house were as nice and easy to talk to as you."
"Weasley still giving you trouble?" Harry asked sympathetically. "You know he's just jealous."
"I know he's a jerk even when I'm trying to be helpful or nice," she scowled. "If he doesn't want to be told the right way to do something then why does complain so loudly about being confused when his work goes wrong? And when he makes fun of me the rest of them just laugh and go along with it. I have nothing in common with anybody, not even Neville, who gets made fun of almost as much as I do. No one respects me." She took a vicious bite from her apple and chewed furiously.
Harry wished he could help her, wished he could just punch Weasley or something to make it stop, but a Slytherin intervening would just make things worse for her, besides which Harry wasn't sure he could beat the big redhead in a fight unless he completely lost his temper. Being that unhinged scared him. He didn't like seeing himself like that. Harry liked the idea of being powerful, but he didn't want his power to come from violence or fear.
Chewing on his lip, eyes narrowing, Harry looked out across the school grounds and tried to think of something helpful. Surely he'd learned something from all of the scheming happening in the Slytherin common room every night. "Make them respect you and see that you have common ground. Try swapping skills, like we do. Watch them to figure out what they enjoy or feel passionate about and bring it up in conversation. Get them to think of you as being with them on the same team, perhaps by invoking a common enemy." Harry shrugged and gave her a commiserating look. "It sounds like if you want things to change, most of the effort is going to have to come from you, which stinks."
Hermione nodded slowly, eyes going unfocused. "This sounds like a long-term plan that's going to need notes and diagrams, lots of notes and diagrams, because the only things Ron Weasley seems to like are Quidditch and food. Oh!" In her excitement at thinking of something, Hermione inhaled a chunk of apple and started to choke. By the time they'd dislodged it, Harry was thoroughly distracted and never did get around to asking her about her idea, though she did seem to take their Quidditch training a lot more seriously than usual after that. If he didn't know better, he'd think she was aiming to get on the Quidditch team next year too.
AN: Thanks for reading! This story will span most of the years at Hogwarts. Some years (like first year) will be covered in a single chapter and others (like second year) might span six chapters or more. It all depends on the muse and what serves the plot. I hope you have as much fun reading this as I do writing it. Cheers!