AN: I am assuming for sake of simplicity that all of the houses have their first year classes on the same day, just not always at the same time. In addition to simplifying my timeline research, this strikes me as the least insane way of ordering it for the teachers, although I agree with everybody else who has tried to do a Hogwarts timetable that there is no sane way to divvy up the work without heavy use of time-turners.

AN2: I know I said I would alternate chapters w/my Sakura fic, but I figure I should stick with the story that's just about writing itself in my head.

ooOoo

Hermione's head was spinning as she left Snape's office and made her way to the Slytherin common room. If she understood him correctly, he had stepped in after Pansy's latest prank not because he wanted to stop her bullying per se, but only because Pansy had crossed the line-apparently the same line the prefects had been talking about, of carrying a prank so far that it exposed cracks within Slytherin.

As long as Pansy kept her pranks on the correct side of that line, she could pick on Hermione without any interference from their head of house. But on the other hand, if Hermione retaliated against Pansy, she could expect a similar amount of leeway in official oversight of her actions.

No authority figure had ever suggested such a thing to Hermione before. Her teachers had always insisted that she was doing the right thing by reporting bullying through the proper channels. Her parents had told her that bullies were just hurting themselves, really, in the long run. Every adult seemed to agree that Hermione would be better off not being drawn into a "cycle of violence."

Of course, it had always been a moot point, back in the muggle world. Hermione wasn't the weakest kid out there, but she was going to be an underdog in most physical confrontations. Professor Snape's blithe assumption that she could look out for herself was a little reassuring, but was more likely a result of the fact that for wizards, the wand was a great equalizer. After all, it didn't really matter how strong somebody was if they were under the full body bind.

Any further musings on the differences between muggles and wizards in the realm of school discipline were put on hold when Hermione entered the common room and saw the clock on the wall. She felt the blood drain from her face as she realized she was going to have to hurry to make it to her detention on time.

One secret passage, two misbehaving staircases, and one (mercifully brief) encounter with Peeves later, Hermione skidded to a halt outside of Professor McGonagall's office and heaved a sigh of relief when she saw that the time was 6:59pm. The professor opened her door at precisely seven o'clock and ushered Hermione inside, indicating that she should take a seat.

Hermione took a moment while Professor McGonagall was walking back around her desk to glance around the office. Her overall impression was that it reflected the professor's no-nonsense personality. The furniture-desk, bookshelves, and work table-was all of a sturdy oak construction, and no loose papers cluttered any of the work surfaces. There were two framed certificates on the wall. Hermione couldn't quite read them from where she sat, but one appeared to be a certificate of mastery in transfiguration. The only other wall decoration was a large banner in Gryffindor colors, decorated with small representations of trophies and broomsticks. Each icon was labeled with a year, and Hermione could only assume that they represented House Cups and Quidditch Cups won under McGonagall's tenure. There was a pretty good sized collection of icons, but it had been a few years since one was added.

Her attention was pulled from looking around the office when she heard the soft thud of an object being dropped on the desk in front of her. Turning around, Hermione saw that a pair of socks had been tossed onto the otherwise empty desk. She looked up at Professor McGonagall, confused.

"Well?" McGonagall asked.

"I..." Hermione looked down, embarassed. She hated demonstrating any kind of skill that she had not mastered. It was a trait that had driven her parents crazy when she was learning to write, as she had thrown a fit every time she drew a letter that didn't perfectly match the example in the books. She would never have let an effort like her "shoes" be seen by anybody else if it hadn't been such a desperate situation.

"Miss Granger," McGonagall said, "I can hardly correct your mistakes without seeing what you did wrong."

Looking at the professor and seeing nothing but a sincere desire to help, Hermione reluctantly drew her wand. She rehearsed the wand motion briefly in her mind, before bringing the wand to bear. Focusing so strongly on an image of her shoes that she started feeling a bit of a headache, Hermione cast the modified inanimate-to-inanimate transfiguration spell. The socks twitched, then morphed into a reasonable approximation of a pair of shoes. They weren't quite as shiny as proper patent leather, and the buckle was a gold-colored segment of leather rather than metal, but it was a noticeable improvement over her previous effort.

"Hmm, not bad," McGonagall said, before reaching under her desk and pulling out a strawberry that she placed inside the shoe. "Before we proceed, I want to emphasize that transfiguring clothing is not something to take lightly. In class when your transfiguration failed, it reverted back to its original form. That is the most likely result, but hardly the only possibility."

McGonagall tapped the shoes with her wand, and Hermione flinched back from a fine red mist that fortunately stopped short of her position. She flinched when she saw what now looked like two perfectly flat socks made out of thick leather, crushed strawberry leaking out of the top. Seeing that her point had been made, McGonagall gestured with her wand once more, and two perfectly clean socks once again rested atop her desk.

"I believe this is primarily a problem of trying to run before you can walk," McGonagall said. "Let's start by performing the same spell using transfiguration basics."

Hermione stifled a groan. Transfiguration basics were described in the appendix to the transfiguration textbook as a method of simplifying the visualization required to perform a proper transfiguration. She had been excited to learn about them at first, until she discovered how tedious they were.

Even the simple matchstick to needle transformation, when broken down to the basics, was quite complex-jabs to define the spacial coordinates of the object to be changed, the little waggle that indicated wood, the spiraling motion that signaled a transformation in material, the zigzag that represented metal, followed by the motions that defined the change in shape-instead of a relatively simple wand motion it was twenty seconds of paintstaking work. The payoff was that if you performed the wand motions correctly, the match would transform as long as you kept anything even vaguely needle-like in mind.

She suspected that the process of mastering transfiguration involved replacing more and more complex wand motions with visualization, but even Hermione had her limits. Once she had proven to herself that she could work with the transfiguration basics, she had set them aside as requiring too much effort for too little gain.

"Come now," McGonagall said, smiling a bit at Hermione's reaction, "surely you're not afraid to put in a little extra work to make sure you're performing the spell correctly?"

"Well," Hermione replied, "I'm not sure I could put together the whole transfiguration from basics off the top of my head."

The transformation from socks to shoes was significantly more complicated than the matchstick to needle transformation, and would require correspondingly more complex wand motions. Hermione's hope that this excuse might stand up were dashed when a large tome floated off of a bookshelf at Professor McGonagall's direction and landed on the desk in front of her.

"Then it's fortunate that I have a reference handy," McGonagall said. "I've often thought that students would be better served to build up a solid foundation in the basics before moving on to actual transformations, but most first years won't put in the effort to learn without a tangible result. I'm so glad you've volunteered to test out my theory."

Hermione decided against sharing exactly what she thought of this "volunteer" effort-a one-on-one tutoring session was probably the best result she could hope for from a detention, and a personal lesson from Hogwarts's Transfiguration Professor was a valuable thing. She only wished that it didn't involve quite so much painstaking effort.

ooOoo

Hermione and Neville had developed a comfortable working relationship in the potions lab: she told him what to do, and he did it. Neville was still making decent progress under her tutoring and was almost starting to verge on competence, at least when he was given a chance to work outside of Professor Snape's presence. Hermione was proud that she had helped him improve, and happy that he was no longer endangering her grades. Despite all that, she was still nonplussed when he showed up for their tutoring session the morning after her detention trailing a couple of guests.

"Are you starting up with this 'protect Neville' business again?" Hermione asked, eyeing Ron and Harry with suspicion.

"They never really stopped," Neville said, "Ron asks if you've been doing anything suspicious after every one of these meetings."

Neville sounded a little exasperated at Ron's behavior, and even Harry seemed to think he was taking things a little too far. Ron's face reddened slightly, although he didn't have the sort of raw anger Hermione would expect if he was surprised at his friends' behavior-she suspected this was part of a conversation the Gryffindor boys had had before.

"Always beware Slytherins bearing gifts," Ron said. It sounded like he was quoting something. "That's just common sense."

Hermione started to reply, but Ron cut her off.

"And Harry's told me about dentists," he said darkly. "I'm surprised he can stand to be in the same room as you after going through that kind of torture."

Harry was now openly rolling his eyes, and Hermione was pretty sure she heard a long suffering sigh from where Neville was setting up his work station. She was staring at Ron, a little gobsmacked by his ignorance, when a thought occurred to her: was this what she sounded like when she talked about wizard culture? Hermione put the thought away for future consideration and fixed Ron with her best icy glare.

"Dentistry isn't hereditary, Ronald," Hermione said. "And I hardly think-"

Hermione stopped talking when Harry stepped in front of Ron, his hands held up in surrender. She was surprised at his actions, as Harry usually seemed to prefer to stay in the background and let Ron do the talking.

"Hermione, please, we're not here to accuse you of anything," Harry said. "The truth is, we need your help with potions. The last few classes, our grades have been pretty bad."

Behind him Ron nodded sheepishly, and Hermione felt her eyes narrow as she considered the request. It was hardly a new situation-several times in the past previously standoffish classmates had changed their tune when they realized Hermione could help them with some critical piece of classwork. Those "friendships" never lasted, and she didn't really feel like playing the role of the homework helper once more.

"Neville is my lab partner, and he's treated me like a decent human being," Hermione said, crossing her arms over her chest. "Why should I be helping you two out, exactly?"

Harry stared at Hermione in surprise. His green eyes looked huge behind his glasses, and he gave off such a wounded puppy vibe that Hermione had to fight down a sudden impulse to give him a hug and promise that he would be all right. Behind him Ron had flushed red in anger and was muttering something about Slytherins. Surprisingly, it was Neville who broke the impasse.

"I'm sure they didn't really mean all those things they said before they got to know you," Neville said. "Right, guys?"

Hermione saw a flicker of understanding cross Harry's face, followed by a look of determination.

"I'm sorry, Hermione," Harry said. "I shouldn't have thought you were a bad person just because you're in Slytherin."

Both of them turned to look expectantly at Ron. After a moment he took a deep breath and relaxed his hands, which had been clenched into fists.

"I'm sorry too," Ron said.

He didn't sound particularly sincere, but it was better than Hermione had expected. Honestly, she wasn't in a position where she could really kick them out of the room, and it wasn't like she could stop helping Neville. If she could get them to look at her as a person and not just a homework dispenser, that was victory enough.

"Fine," Hermione replied. "Set up your cauldron and let's get to work."

As Ron and Harry prepared their workstation, Hermione started asking Neville a few questions about the Blister Reduction Potion. She wanted to make sure he had done the reading before starting his brewing-Neville was usually pretty good about that sort of thing now, but she felt it was better to be safe than sorry. She had also recently started using this question and answer session to focus Neville on potential trouble spots in the brewing potion. Doing the reading wasn't enough if you didn't understand what the book was trying to tell you.

She smiled when Neville correctly identified the signs of too much heat being applied during the reduction stage of the potion, and then blinked in surprise when she glanced over at the other two. They were both staring at Neville, jaws agape. Harry recovered his voice first.

"Where'd you learn all that, Nev?" Harry asked.

"It's in the book," Neville mumbled, blushing.

"What? Where?" Harry asked.

"What do you mean, where?" Hermione asked. "It's right after the brewing instructions."

"We're supposed to read that?" Harry asked, then recoiled at the glare Hermione turned on him. "I mean, I know we're supposed to read that stuff when Snape gives us essays to write, but otherwise I didn't think we needed to."

"Yeah," Ron said, jumping in. "We follow the directions, so we ought to get the right potion. We wanted you to tell us why it's not working."

"I don't believe this," Hermione said, pinching the bridge of her nose. "You've been treating your potions text like a cookbook."

"Well," Harry said, sounding genuinely puzzled, "it has a list of recipes describing how to combine ingredients to get the proper result, so yeah."

"Ok," Hermione said, "the last step of the Boil Cure Potion is to stir five times clockwise. How fast do you stir it?"

"Kind of a normal stirring speed?" Harry said.

"How do you know if you're going too fast or too slow? How do you fix it if you do?" Hermione asked. "You're not scrambling eggs here. You're creating a precise combination of magical ingredients to produce a result that violates the laws of nature! There are any number of tiny variations in how people will interpret the same directions, you have to know how to account for those things."

"Ok, ok. We'll be better about doing the reading," Harry said. "But for now could we just work on the potion we're doing tomorrow?"

For a moment, Hermione was tempted. Walking them step by step through the potion so they could repeat it tomorrow was the quickest way to help improve their potions grade. However, it smacked a little too much of the homework-for-tolerance bargain that she had sworn to avoid. She was willing to offer advice to somebody who was genuinely trying to improve at potions brewing, but she drew the line at having somebody else act as a pair of hands while she walked them through a potion.

"If you want my help, you'll do the reading now," Hermione said. "You can both get through chapter one while I help Neville with his potion, and then we can talk about the Boil Cure Potion."

"Hey! You said you would help us," Ron protested.

"I said I would help. Not that I would do your work for you," Hermione replied. "Neville is putting in the effort to get better at brewing potions himself, not just asking me to improve his grade. If you want my help, you ought to do the same."

Left unsaid was the fact that Neville was tied to her by Snape's insistence that they partner together, and at least part of his effort was motivated by fear of what might happen if he hurt her grades. Even if he had originally attended out of fear, he really had been putting in work to get better. Having Ron and Harry act like she could just tell them how to get a better grade without any real effort on their part cheapened that.

"Fine, fine," Ron said, flipping back to the first page of his book with ill-concealed displeasure. "Just what I wanted to do today, more bloody reading."

Hermione elected to ignore Ron's language, instead focusing on Neville as he worked through the first few steps of the potion. Eventually he reached a point where the potion had to be left to simmer for a while, and she decided it was safe for her to work on her own project. Moving away from the boys' workstations, she pulled a match out of her pocket and set it on the table.

Her work with Professor McGonagall had been difficult, but it had paid off. Once she had finished the rather extended process of translating the socks to shoes transfiguration into the basics, the transformation had gone off without a hitch-other than the two minutes of wand waving needed to produce the result. With that down, the next step was to work on reducing the amount of wand motion needed, which was an interesting process. Professor McGonagall had explained that while it was important to visualize the end result of the spell, it was equally important to visualize the process of transition from one form to the other.

Of course, there was no natural process of transition from socks to shoes, or matches to needles. Instead, there was the magical process that took place as guided by the transfiguration basics, the fundamental building blocks of transfiguration. Having broken the sock transfiguration down to that level, she found that it was relatively straightforward to focus on that framework while reducing her wand movements.

She also had a better understanding of what was going on with the additional wand movements she had incorporated on her own-each motion encoded a standard series of ten or twenty of the basics, and knowing that made it easier to build out the overall structure of the spell. Hermione was hardly at the level of Professor McGonagall, who could transform a whole desk into an animal with a simple tap of her wand, but she had made real progress over the course of the detention.

Now she was trying to go the other direction. Instead of working on managing a more difficult transformation through difficult wand work, she wanted to see if she could simplify the wand work on an easy transformation. Transforming a match into a needle took a little bit of a wiggle and jab motion. Hermione stared at the matchstick and concentrated.

The wiggle was a common motion for the transformation of wood into metal, encapsulating what would otherwise be eight separate motions. Hermione focused on the direction provided by those eight motions and jabbed her wand at the matchstick. She frowned when she saw the result: a metal matchstick.

Hermione reverted the matchstick again and tried again, this time splitting her attention between the guidance usually provided by the wand motion and visualizing her final result. It felt strange, like trying to pat her head and rub her stomach at the same time with her brain, but it paid off. A perfectly formed needle sat where her matchstick had been.

She smiled in satisfaction. Even before coming to Hogwarts, she had never understood the aversion that her peers had for homework. Homework was a chance to learn something you didn't know before, or to improve on some skill. That was how she felt about learning things like math, and the feeling was even stronger when it came to magic. She had a hard time understanding why somebody would want to skive off instead of learning how to violate the fundamental laws of the universe.

Still, Professor Snape had made it clear that mastering her homework wasn't going to be enough. If she was going to be twice as good as her classmates at magic, she was going to have to go beyond the material to learn things like this.

Thinking of Professor Snape's advice, Hermione was reminded of the fact that she didn't really know how to get back at Pansy for her malicious pranks. And when she didn't know how to do something, the best thing to do was ask an expert.

"Hey Ron," Hermione asked, startling him into looking up from his book at her, "your twin brothers were the ones that charmed all of Slytherins' robes red and gold last week, right?"

"Ye-I mean, I wouldn't know anything about that," Ron said, shifting in his seat.

"I'm not angry," Hermione said, waving her hand dismissively. "I just wanted to talk to them. I have a little issue I think they can help me with."

"I don't know," Ron said, "they're not big on hanging out with first years."

"But they'd meet with me as a favor to you, right?" Hermione asked. "And you'd ask them as a favor for me, right?"

"Why would I-" Ron said, then looked around at the little potions study group that Hermione was leading, and slumped down. "I guess, yeah."

"Thank you, Ronald." Hermione said.

She wasn't sure it was a great idea to attract the attention of the school's most notorious pranksters-and Gryffindors, even-but it wasn't like she was spoiled for choice. She could hardly ask any of the older Slytherins for advice. Besides, she only knew them through the Hogwarts rumor mill, which was surely exaggerrated-how bad could they really be?

ooOoo

Over the next few days Hermione adjusted her routine. She had already read the course books, of course, but she had been re-reading the relevant chapters a couple time before each class; she cut back to simply skimming each part to refresh her memory before class. She also cut down on her essay revision: for each assignment she would write out her essay, wait a day, and then revise it. This replaced the multiple rounds of revision that she had been doing. She used the time thus freed up to conduct more practical research and refine her ability to use magic.

Hermione was spending a lazy Sunday afternoon in the library reading "Formidable Fortifications" when she was interrupted by a stranger sliding into the seat to her left. And another stranger taking the seat to her right. Glancing from side to side, she was confronted by the mirrored images of the infamous Weasley Twins.

"After hearing ickle Ronniekins describe you," the twin on her left said, "we figured you'd be 10 feet tall, breathe fire-"

"And shoot laser beams out of your eyes," the twin on her right finished. "We never thought you'd just be some innocent looking little firstie."

"Hello?" Hermione said, her voice coming out a little squeakier than she would have liked.

"Of course," the twin on her left continued as if she hadn't spoken, "everybody knows it's the innocent looking Slytherins that are the most dangerous."

"Very true, brothern mine," the twin on her right said. "That's why we decided to meet you here-"

"Because even if you are looking to trick some poor, innocent, handsome Gryffindors," the twin on her left clutched his hands dramatically over his heart, "everybody knows one thing about Hermione Granger-"

"She's not going to get herself kicked out of the library!" The twin on her right finished, hunching over slightly as Madam Pince glared at him for raising his voice.

"What do you want?" Hermione asked, slightly dizzied by the conversational tennis match going on around her.

"Now, now, that's what we're here to ask you," the left twin said. "Why is it that you requested the presence of the dashing, brilliant, handsome, wise-"

"-and handsome, Fred and George Weasley?" the right twin asked.

"I have a little bit of a pranking problem," Hermione admitted.

"We don't usually take requests," the left twin said, "but I suppose we could make an exception for the girl who convinced Ron to crack open a book."

"Of course," the right twin said, "we'll need your help to get into the Slytherin common room, and-"

"No, no!" Hermione said, wincing at the glare she received from Madam Pince. "I'll take care of my own problems. I just wanted to consult you for some advice. And maybe some supplies."

She didn't know precisely where the line was in terms of behavior that would draw an official response, but she was sure dragging the Weasley twins into an intra-Slytherin dispute was well past it. Besides which, having other people fight her battles was hardly the way to win respect from anybody. Hermione shook her head at the thought, and then did a double take when she saw the deerstalker cap perched on the head of the twin to her left.

"Consulting pranksters, you say?" He asked. "I could see that."

To Hermione's surprise, the other twin didn't say anything, staring with disapproval at his brother. When he spoke, his voice no longer carried a joking tone.

"Where did you get the hat, Fred?" He asked.

"What-hey, don't start this in front of the Slytherin," Fred responded defensively.

"No, this is important," the other twin, apparently George, insisted. "We had a deal. I don't do anything to hurt your chances with Angelina Johnson, and you knock it off with the prop comedy."

"Come on, this hat is a classic." Fred protested.

"It's demeaning, is what it is. We're thirteen now, we should be able to get by without that kind of crutch," George replied. "Or do you want me wandering into the wrong locker room by mistake after our next practice?"

"Fine, fine," Fred grumbled, and Hermione blinked. The hat had disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. Fred looked at her apologetically. "Sorry you had to see that."

"That's quite all right," Hermione said. She figured the best way to deal with the twins was to just go with the flow.

"Now about your problem," George said, and Hermione did a double take after she turned to look at him: he was decked out in the deerstalker cap and holding an oversized pipe in his right hand. "I'm sure it will turn out to be quite elementary, my dear."

"Oy!" Fred called out, leaping over Hermione to tackle his twin.

They were all kicked out of the library and had to finish their conversation in an abandoned classroom, but Hermione thought that overall it was a productive meeting.

ooOoo

For the second time in as many weeks, Severus Snape found himself hosting an upset first year in his office. Where he had heard Granger out due to some vague sense of obligation, his solicitious treatment of Draco Malfoy could be attributed entirely to the boy's family. While he had gotten to know Draco over a few year's worth of tutoring and considered him less intolerable than most eleven year olds, he still didn't particularly care for the boy's company. Draco was having the same trouble adjusting to Hogwarts that Snape had seen before from only children of rich families. Usually Snape was able to beat that out of his Slytherins pretty quickly. Unfortunately, his position required that he stay in Lucius Malfoy's good graces, which meant that Draco would be treated more gently than the average first year.

Snape had largely tuned out Draco's whining and was considering his recent potions research. He had been working on modifying the wolfsbane potion, replacing some of the more expensive ingredients in an effort to decrease the cost of the potion-and increase the profit margin for the brewer, of course. He had had a few ideas, but unfortunately he was having a hard time finding willing test subjects for his experimental testing. He would have to check with his contacts at the Ministry, they usually had a few werewolves that they didn't mind "volunteering" for that kind of thing. He frowned as he realized Draco had finished talking, and took a second to recall what he had been complaining about last.

"Mr. Malfoy," Snape said, "I alone determine how points are awarded in my class."

Snape kept a steady gaze on Draco as he spoke. Most of his students found being the sole focus of his attention faintly unnerving. Unfortunately, Draco had developed a bit of a resistance over the last few years, based in part on his belief that they shared a personal bond.

"I know when my potions are right, you've been teaching me for the last three years," Draco said. "I should check with my father about how good a potion needs to be to earn house points."

Well, now Draco had his full attention. The last thing he needed was Lucius Malfoy breathing down his neck with everything else that was going on this year.

"So, you're ready to save me the effort of evaluating your potions? How generous," Snape said, standing and looking down at Draco. "While you're at it, perhaps you could evaluate the work Miss Granger has been doing."

"What does that mudblood have to do with anything?" Draco asked, then flinched back as Snape's glare intensified.

"Don't embarass yourself with that kind of gutter language, Mr. Malfoy," Snape said, keeping his glare on Draco until the boy looked down and apologized.

"Still," Draco insisted, "I don't see what her potions have to do with me earning house points."

"They have everything to do with you," Snape said, "since her work has been better than yours in every class."

That was the crux of the issue. Snape, in his more reflective moments, knew that he was a bitter, twisted man. He had worked as a spy for Voldemort, as a double agent for Dumbledore, sometimes as a triple agent for the Dark Lord, to the point that he hardly knew which side he was on by the end of the war. But the one thing that he held sacrosanct was potions brewing. The only time he had ever refused Dumbledore was when the Headmaster requested that he sabotage the potions he was brewing for the Death Eaters. He had argued that such carelessness would reduce his value as a spy, but the truth was that he just couldn't bring himself to deliberately mis-brew a potion.

He wasn't above house politics or personal bias-even if Harry Potter had been the second coming of Horace Slughorn, he was going to go seven years without earning a single house point from Snape-but he wasn't going to mis-grade a potion just to curry favor with Lucius Malfoy. He was never going to award Granger any points, but if the best potion in class wasn't earning any points, neither were any of the others.

"That's impossible," Draco protested, "she must be cheating somehow."

"Do you think a first year muggleborn student could devise a way to cheat that would slip past me?" Snape asked. "Or perhaps her pairing with Neville Longbottom provides an unfair advantage?"

Draco had nothing to say in response, and Snape continued.

"By all means, please do write to your father," Snape said. "Ask him what you should do to brew better potions than your muggleborn classmate. I'm sure he will be happy to provide you with... advice."

Draco paled but said nothing as he turned and left the office. Snape watched him go and spared a thought to hope that the boy might learn to stop dragging his father into everything. Lucius doted on the boy, but the man had his limits. Shaking his head, Snape dismissed Draco from his mind and turned back to his research.

ooOoo

The next couple of weeks went well. No more of her things were stolen, perhaps in part because Hermione had taken to locking all of her possessions in her trunk whenever she was out of the dorm or asleep. It was a hassle, and it meant that Hermione didn't really get to make use of the built in bookshelf next to her bed, but at least she knew where everything would be in the morning.

Hermione knew that her locked trunk wouldn't be much of a deterrent in a school where everybody learned the Unlocking Charm during the first month of classes, so she also got in the habit of securing her trunk with magic. The spell she used was known as Lumley's Lock-up Charm, or more colloquially as "the simplest ward ever." It was the wizard's equivalent to a combination lock-the beginning and ending wand motions were always the same, but in between the caster could choose up to three different motions from a list of ten. The ward could only be unlocked by somebody who used the same three motions, and if it was forced open it would trigger a secondary spell. Hermione had it set up to fire a stinging hex at the back of her left hand.

So far all of these precautions had proven unnecessary as Pansy still seemed to be cowed by Snape's lecture. None of her fellow Slytherin's were being very friendly, but they also weren't going out of their way to give her trouble, so Hermione counted that as a win.

Hermione looked up as Neville entered the classroom where she had been waiting. The other two Gryffindors were nowhere to be seen. Apparently doing the assigned reading had raised their grades to a point they were happy with, or at least to a point where further improvement wasn't worth spending time with her.

Neville had an extra package under his arm, which he set down on a table and slid over to Hermione. She looked down and saw a full set of first year potions ingredients, still in its original wrapping. She looked up at Neville, raising an eyebrow in inquiry.

"I had to order some extra ingredients since we're brewing every potion twice," Neville explained. "I figured while I did that I could get you something, as a thank you."

"Neville, you didn't have to do this," Hermione said, though she was moved by the gesture.

"No, I did! You know my family thought I was a squib almost until my Hogwarts letter arrived? Everybody just expects me to be terrible at magic," Neville said, unusually impassioned. "Even the people in my own house, when they saw what happened in potions they all just scrambled not to pair up with me."

She had worried for Neville before but she hadn't realized just how bad he had it. Hermione felt a little embarassed when she remembered her initial reaction at being paired up with him.

"You're the first person to actually do something about it," Neville continued. "You thought I could be better, you made me be better. Now I know I don't have to be just the loser who melts every cauldron he touches. The least I can do is get you something to show my thanks."

Hermione hesitated, then gave in to her initial impulse and swept Neville into a hug. Even if everybody looked down on him, even if he was a boat anchor of a lab partner, she was glad to have him as a friend.

"Oh, Neville, of course you don't have to be a loser," Hermione said, then stepped away from him and cleared her throat. "Of course, if you screw up my grades I might just change my mind about using you for potions ingredients."

"I know, I know," Neville said, casually turning away to rub at some dust that must have gotten into his eyes. "I have something for you from the Twins as well."

Neville reached into his backpack and gingerly withdrew an unmarked cardboard box. He carefully walked over and set the box down in front of Hermione.

"They said you would know what to do with this," Neville said.

"I haven't exactly decided," Hermione said, "but I have some ideas."

She was very cautious as she packed the box in with her own possessions. Dungbombs were such delicate things.

ooOoo

The Charms class on Halloween was one that Hermione had been looking forward to for some time. She had been working to further develop her ability to split her concentration while casting spells, and the class on the Levitation Charm was her chance to show off the results. When Flitwick sent a spray of feathers around the room and told them to have at it, she held up a hand to restrain Millicent from casting, then focused on both feathers and gave her wand a swish and flick.

"Wingardium leviosa," Hermione said, keeping her focus on both feathers, feeling herself break out in a triumphant grin as both of them lifted from the table simultaneously. She made the feathers dance around in the air a bit before bringing them both down on the table where they had started.

She looked over at Millicent and saw that she was taken aback. The other girl had long since accepted Hermione's consistent accomplishment in spellcasting, but this was another step above and beyond. She looked like she might say something, but both of them jumped at the sound of applause coming from the aisle.

"Excellent job, Miss Granger!" Flitwick said, nearly bouncing in place. "Is two the most you can handle?"

"It's the most I've tried," Hermione said, flushing a bit at the praise.

"Well, let's see what you can do," Flitwick said, pulling out a handful of feathers and dropping them on the table.

Hermione found she was able to control three feathers, albeit not with as much dexterity as she could manage with just two. When she tried the spell with four feathers they trembled slightly, but didn't rise from the table. She tried again a few times, with similar results.

"That really is quite well done, Miss Granger," Flitwick said, "I usually give two points to the first person to levitate a feather, so I think six points to Slytherin is fair."

With that Flitwick bounded off to attend to other students. He left behind the small pile of feathers, which Hermione took as encouragement to keep trying to improve in her deployment of the charm. She and Millicent returned to their practice, although after a moment Millicent broke the steady stream of incantations and addressed her directly.

"That was something else, Granger," she said, then paused. "You know we don't always agree with Pansy, right?"

"But none of you rein her in when she picks on me," Hermione said, a little bitter. "Purebloods stick together, I guess."

"Not purebloods," Millicent said, shaking her head. "It's just... when your mothers are friends, and their mothers are friends, and their mothers were friends... you kind of have to be friends."

"I get it," Hermione said, glaring at the feather in front of her as if it were to blame. "I just wish there were some way you could be friends with her without being my enemy."

"Yeah, me too," Millicent replied.

After that there didn't seem to be much to say.

Hermione felt a little melancholy after class, but her mood picked up as the Halloween dinner approached. Halloween was the only day of the year that her parents allowed sweets, and she intended to honor that rule at Hogwarts by indulging in the sugary treats she usually avoided.

Her good mood was shattered when Professor Quirrel burst into the Great Hall to announce that a troll was in the dungeons before falling over in a dead faint. She spared a moment of disdain for her Defense professor before falling into line with the rest of her house. Just before they left the hall Hermione was struck by a thought and raced ahead to tug on Jennifer Nott's sleeve. The fifth year prefect looked down at her in surprise.

"Granger?" Jennifer said. "I'm a little busy right now."

"I know," Hermione said, "but there's a troll in the dungeons, right? Should we really be heading back to our common room right now."

"Good point," Jennifer said, rocking back a bit on her heels. She turned to face the rest of Slytherin. "Hold up a minute, guys!"

Jennifer made her way over to the knot of teachers that had gathered together at the head table. She soon got Professor Snape's attention, and Hermione saw him start in surprise before turning back to the rest of the teachers. After a moment Dumbledore stepped out of the group and tapped his wand to his throat once more.

"On second thought," the headmaster announced, "it might be best for student safety if you all stay here under the protection of your professors until the troll is taken care of. Also, five points to Slytherin for keeping a cool head in a crisis."

Hermione was glad to have the points, but she was even more heartened by the grateful looks she received from some of her fellow Slytherins as they realized what had just happened.

ooOoo

That evening Hermione was woken by a sharp stinging sensation on her left hand. She stayed still as she came awake, and listened carefully. It sounded like somebody was rooting through her things. Moving as silently as she could, Hermione pulled her wand out from under her pillow, parted the curtains around her bed, and took aim at the figure crouched over her trunk.

"Petrificus totalus!" The whispered incantation was enough to send a small bolt of light at the figure, who went stiff as a board toppled on her side as the spell hit. A moment later Hermione was standing over the still form of Pansy Parkinson. She didn't know if the girl had been pushed into resuming her pranks because of the recognition Hermione received that day, or if she was just bored and ready to start another round of "pick on the muggleborn." Either way, Hermione needed to decide what to do with her.

Part of her just wanted to dump Pansy in her own bed, reapply her defensive charms, and go back to sleep. She'd beaten the other girl, and all of her things would be there in the morning. But a small but insistent part of her insisted that that would be a bad idea.

Never do an enemy a small injury.

She wanted this to stop. Humming thoughtfully, Hermione reached into her trunk and withdrew a quill and an inkwell. Holding her wand up for light, she ignored the deadly glare Pansy was sending her and carefully traced the word "THIEF" on the other girl's forehead in block letters. She then put her things away and dragged Pansy out into the common room.

Hermione propped Pansy up next to the exit and hit her with another couple of body binds for good measure, then checked the time. Seeing that it was four o'clock in the morning, Hermione figured that one of the early rising Slytherins would probably see Pansy before the petrification wore off. Even if they didn't, Pansy should get the message that picking on her was no longer a risk free activity.

When Hermione stepped into the first year girl's dorm, she paused at the sight of Pansy's wand sitting on the floor by her bed. Deciding it was better to be safe than sorry, Hermione pulled a pencil out of her trunk and transfigured it into a copy of Pansy's wand. She tossed the fake wand up onto Pansy's bed, then put the real wand in her trunk. After reapplying her security charms, Hermione did her best to get back to sleep.

It seemed like Hermione had only just fallen asleep when she was woken by a shout from just outside her bed.

"Granger!" Pansy called out. "Get out here you filthy mudblood!"

Yawning, Hermione poked her head out of her curtains, only to stop when she saw Pansy's "wand" an inch from her nose. She made a show of looking at the wand, then up at her tormentor.

"Pansy? You know you've got a thing..." Hermione trailed off, gesturing at her own forehead, and suppressed a smirk at Pansy's growl. It was a lot easier to be a smartass when you were being threatened by somebody at transfigured-pencil-point, rather than wand-point.

"You've gone too far, Granger," Pansy said, before taking a deep breath and settling herself. "I challenge you to a wizard's duel!"

"Right now?" Hermione asked, wondering what Pansy was thinking.

"No," Pansy shook her head, "tonight at midnight, in the trophy room."

Hermione blinked as Pansy's thought process became clear. Everybody in the school knew how the boy-who-lived had been tricked into earning a detention by Draco's false challenge to a duel. Pansy must really think she had no friends if she thought Hermione was going to fall for that one. She opened her mouth to decline when a piece of advice from the twins floated to the front of her mind.

Nobody's easier to fool than the bloke who thinks he's fooling you.

"Fine," Hermione said. "I'll enjoy showing you what a muggleborn witch can do."

"And I'll prove that you don't belong at Hogwarts, let alone in Slytherin," Pansy sneered. "Tracy will be my second. You can bring whoever you like, if you make a friend between now and midnight."

Pansy turned and walked away, then turned back as a thought occurred to her. "We should stay out of the common room after classes so the prefects don't catch us leaving after hours. I'll see you in the Trophy Room at midnight."

Hermione nodded, and Pansy stalked off to the bathroom to try and scrub off her forehead. She could only assume that the other girl was too angry to be thinking straight when she reused Draco's plan like that. Even if Hermione hadn't heard about Harry's escapades in great detail from Neville, the proviso intended to make sure they didn't just set out from the Slytherin common room together would have been enough to make her suspicious.

Her mind was whirling as she pieced her own plan together. She knew her classmates thought of her as book smart and people stupid, but would Pansy really believe that she had fallen for such a stupid trap... Hermione gave a mental shrug. Either way, the other girl's wand was locked in her trunk, so there wasn't much real risk.

Actually, their only class today was potions, and if Hermione's memory served there was no wand usage associated with today's potion. There were some possibilities here.

ooOoo

Hermione moved through the rest of the day with the serious air of somebody facing a duel in the evening. If she was a little more careful than usual with her backpack during potions class, well, Neville was the only person close enough to really see and he wasn't going to say anything.

After dinner Hermione slipped away from the crowd of students and wandered into some of the less frequented areas of Hogwarts. She made her way up to the trophy room shortly before curfew, and settled down to wait. For lack of anything better to do she started review her potions textbook in preparation for her meeting with Neville the next day.

At eleven o'clock she shook off her fatigue and went to work. She took a little pride in the finished product-she would never embrace mischief making as a lifestyle the way the twins did, but she could see the appeal of a well constructed prank-and headed back down to the common room.

There was one close call where she had to duck behind a suit of armor to avoid a pair of wandering ghosts, but Hermione's trip back to the dungeon was otherwise uneventful. She entered her dormitory to see Pansy sharing a laugh with Tracy and Daphne, a laugh that was cut off when they saw Hermione.

"You're back," Pansy said. She did not look happy to see her.

"It occurred to me that if I waited until midnight I'd probably be running into Filch," Hermione said. "So yeah, I'm back."

"I guess even our house mudblood has more sense than the boy who lived," Pansy said, sneering.

"You know, we could still have our duel," Hermione said. "Right here, right now."

"Are you crazy?" Pansy asked. "If we wake Snape he'll have our wands."

"Tell you what," Hermione said, taking her wand and tucking it behind her ear, "I'll let you have first shot."

Faced with such an invitation, Pansy could hardly decline. She pulled her wand and stood. She bowed briefly to Hermione, then snapped her wand forward.

"Petrificus totalus!" Pansy chanted, apparently eager to pay Hermione back for her misadventure that morning. When nothing happened, her face flushed and she tried again.

"What?" Pansy asked, incredulous, "Why isn't my wand working?"

"You're asking the wrong question. The question you should be asking," Hermione said, taking her wand from behind her ear and tapping Pansy's wand, reverting it back to a pencil, "is: where is my wand? And what has Hermione been up to all day? And maybe, what kind of mess is Filch walking into up in the trophy room?"

Pansy stared at the pencil in her hand, then at Hermione, then back down at her pencil. Hermione smiled.

"If you hurry, you might be able to get your wand out of there so Filch at least doesn't have proof that you set him up."

Pansy looked down at the pencil one more time, as if it might have changed back into her wand while she wasn't looking, then bolted from the room.

"She's not going to make it, is she?" Tracy Davis asked as the door to the room slammed shut. It was the first time Tracy had directly addressed Hermione since the opening feast.

"If she hurries, she should get there just in time for the dungbombs to go off," Hermione said. She looked at each of the other girls in turn. "Is she really the kind of person that you guys want to take your lead from?"

None of the others said anything, and Hermione went to sleep with a heavy heart. She had won this battle, but she wasn't sure she could win the war. Even if Pansy kept escalating, she didn't think she would be able to go any further than she already had.

ooOoo

The next morning at breakfast, Hermione was brought out of her introspection when somebody dropped into the seat next to her. She looked up to see Blaise Zabini sitting next to her like it was the most natural thing in the world. She hadn't exchanged one word with the boy since the Opening Feast, but he was smiling at her like an old friend.

"That was a good bit of work last night, Granger," Blaise said. "Pansy's in detention for the rest of the term, and she cost Slytherin twenty points."

"Twenty points?" Hermione asked, shocked.

"Yeah, but it's all on her. Second rule of Slytherin, you know," Blaise said, waving a hand carelessly. "Don't get caught."

"Why are you..." Hermione trailed off, as she couldn't decide quite how she wanted to finish that sentence. Why was he telling her this? Acting like her friend? Talking to the muggleborn?

"If there's one thing my mother taught me, it's how to spot talent," Blaise said, leaning forward intently. "But all the talent in the world is no good if you're determined to be a pushover. Now that you've shown you can push back, life just got so much more interesting."

Hermione glared at him, a little annoyed at his cavalier attitude. "I'm glad you find my life entertaining."

"Hey now, I'm here to do you a favor," Blaise said, before adopting a more serious expression. "Pansy's family is in tight with Draco's. When she gets hit with the proverbial dungbomb, a little bit of it rubs off on him. I don't think Draco realizes it yet, but once he gets the next letter from his father, he's going to be coming after you."

Hermione blinked. That... was actually valuable information.

"Why are you telling me this?" She asked.

"Quid pro quo, Granger, try to keep up," Blaise said, before clapping her on the shoulder. "Welcome to Slytherin!"

With that, he stood up and wandered back over to the knot of Slytherin boys sitting at the other end of the table. Hermione watched him go, bemused. She had spent the better part of two months doing nothing but trying to succeed in class, help her house, and be nice to everybody, and it had gotten her precisely nowhere. Now she humiliated one of her housemates, and it earned her a friend, or ally, or... something.

She had a feeling that magic was not the only area where she had a lot to learn.

ooOoo

AN: The prank turnabout bit was stolen from a Harry Potter Peggy Sue fic whose name escapes me, I'd be happy to throw it a name check if somebody knows which one it was and lets me know in a review/PM.