by Jennifer-Oksana (firstname.lastname@example.org)
spoilers: post-Goblet of Fire.
summary: Hermione in the kitchens.
Hermione had taken to hiding in the kitchens, claiming that she was doing it to educate and liberate the house-elves. No matter that the house-elves had never seemed the least bit interested in liberation; Harry and Ron believed her little story and Hermione had some peace. Except from the house-elves.
"Would Hermione like another mug of hot cider?" one of the house-elves asked. Ever since Hermione had left off nagging about liberation, the house-elves had taken to her and a few of them had actually warmed to another idea--a house-elf information network to spy on You-Know-Who's supporters and pass along information discreetly. Dobby in particular had thought it a good idea and had actually been doing most of the recruiting for her, which was fine by Hermione.
"Yes, please," she said, turning back to her books. It was getting late, really, and the words were starting to blur into each other. She would have to go to bed soon.
The doors to the kitchen banged open, distracting Hermione from thoughts of bedtime, and she was suddenly wide-awake when she realized that Professor Snape was standing there, scowling at the elves with his characteristic sourness. He looked particularly greasy and rumpled and Hermione realized he hadn't been around for at least the past few days except at lessons.
"Would Professor Snape like--his usual?" another house-elf asked, looking over at Hermione nervously. Snape looked over and if anything, his scowl deepened.
"Miss Granger, what are you doing in here?" he asked, waving aside the elf curtly. "Shouldn't you be in Gryffindor, reading or plotting trouble with Potter or some such nonsense?"
Hermione scowled back at Snape. If he wanted, he could ruin her entire kitchen escape by going to Dumbledore--or even worse, Professor McGonagall. She forced herself to stop scowling and be polite.
"I'm studying in here," she said primly. "It's quieter here than in the Gryffindor common room and the house-elves let me alone."
This of course was only a partial truth, and to Hermione's dismay, Snape seemed to know it.
"Why would you want to be left alone, Granger? It seems to me that you're quite comfortable in the spotlight--or perhaps there's another young witch with your *distinctive* hairstyle running about with Viktor Krum."
Hermione blushed and then got angrier. It wasn't any of his business and he was just saying that to be cruel and despicable anyway.
"I'm not doing anything wrong!" she protested. "You ought to leave me alone. I've got a lot to work to do for Potions--and you said yourself that if we didn't carefully notice the subtleties of--"
"Granger, I know what I've said in my own class," Snape said in his quietest, most dangerous voice. Hermione immediately shut up and began putting her books away violently. Snape looked amused.
"What are you doing, girl?" he said in a near-drawl.
"I'm going back to Gryffindor House like I ought," Hermione said, unable to keep the sharpness out of her voice. "Please tell Nori that I'm sorry I couldn't drink her cider."
She stood up and was promptly pulled back into her seat.
"Oh, sit down, Miss Granger," Snape said. "I'm not going to tell your little secret. I could give a damn where you do your studying. I just find it interesting that you're not at Potter's right hand, as usual."
Hermione was about to tell Snape where he could put his interest, teacher or not, but then she noticed something strange--something like understanding--flicker across his face. She would have said something, but the house-elf bearing Snape's usual and Hermione's cider appeared and both took the steaming mugs quietly.
"Why do you care where I am?" she asked cautiously after taking her first drink of cider. "Not that it isn't a matter of public record these days, but it's sort of funny that you care."
Snape laughed and to Hermione's surprise, he sounded almost sympathetic in a bitter, Snape-like sort of way.
"I see you've been paying attention to your own press."
Hermione sighed ruefully.
"I can't avoid it," she said. "Every tabloid in the wizarding world has been hovering about my parents' house ever since I came home from Hogwart's. Do you know they call me the luckiest girl in wizarding Europe? The girl who makes both Viktor Krum and Harry Potter weak in the knees. I've practically gone mad trying to ignore them."
Snape smiled, which was strange enough to make Hermione choke in mid-drink, spraying cider on her books. She then realized she was actually telling secrets to Professor Snape, someone she was quite aware disliked her and her friends cordially and was possibly evil. The strangeness of it was not lost on Hermione.
"Very interesting. Of course, that doesn't explain what's worrying all your teachers," he said with a wicked and slightly amused look. "But you don't care about that, do you? You're simply seeking a little solitude, studying for your OWL's like a conscientious young lady ought to--"
"Why are they worried?" Hermione said anxiously and suspiciously. "And why are *you* telling me?"
"The opportunity's presented itself, Granger," Snape said, taking a drink of his usual, which smelled rather like coffee laced with something. "They were going to send McGonagall to sound you out, but I'm here and I'm curious. What are you up to, Granger? You've become secretive almost to the point of silence. I haven't had to watch your hand wave about like a bloody flag for almost two weeks now."
"I have a lot on my mind," Hermione said truthfully. "You-Know-Who's return, trying to avoid publicity, the OWL's--"
"Of course," Snape said, taking another drink. Hermione sighed.
"You don't believe me," she said flatly.
"I do, but I think there's more to it," he said. "You're hungry for something, Granger. I know because when I was your age, I was the same way. Of course, at your age, I hadn't settled for being a footnote yet."
Hermione was genuinely confused about what Snape had just said, and the misunderstanding was clear on her face.
"Excuse me?" she asked. "A footnote?"
"You've read enough magical histories to know what I'm talking about," Snape said. "Most magical history reads like biography--and are about a single great sorcerer and perhaps his closest male associate or his mentor. The rest of the people in his life--people who might have had at least as much responsibility for what really happened as the hero--are relegated to footnotes and minor histories for creaky scholars of magical history."
She suddenly understood exactly what Snape meant and it didn't cheer her up at all.
"You think that we're going to be--footnotes?"
"I already know I'm doomed to perpetual obscurity," he said. "And I've accepted it for my own reasons. But I'm not so sure about you, Miss Granger. You're clearly the most talented witch of your generation, and you're also just as clearly going to be overshadowed by Potter."
She'd never heard anyone put it like that, and she knew that he wasn't wrong about it, either. The idea actually put a bit of a twinge in her stomach and the twinge made her feel ill. Was she jealous of Harry? Did she resent that he got all the fame and she was merely the plucky female sidekick? No. The whole idea was absurd.
"That's not a bad thing," she said. "He's going to defeat You-Know-Who and if I can help, that's enough for me. If that means I'll only be a footnote in magical history, that's plenty of honor for me. I'm not out for glory."
"Very noble of you," Snape said blandly.
"And what's that supposed to mean?" Hermione asked. "What are you DOING here, anyway?"
"I needed a cuppa," Snape said. "I've been rather busy lately and the house-elves are extremely accommodating, as I'm sure you've noticed. And as I've said before, I'm curious about why you're hiding in the kitchens. I personally don't think it's because you're a slave to scholarly devotion, which is the general consensus."
Hermione was suddenly so angry that she forgot that Snape was a teacher--and for all she knew, a teacher about to take fifty points from Gryffindor for her audacious behavior. How dare he?
"What do you think, Professor Snape? That I'm plotting to betray Harry? That I'm studying the Dark Arts in my spare time?"
Snape looked at her, lifting an eyebrow.
"You'd be a far more interesting--and less dangerous--young woman if you were," he said coolly. "But I hardly think so."
"So what, then?" Hermione said, quite frustrated. "You don't think I'm plotting, you don't think I'm studying--and this isn't really your business anyway, as I'm not a Slytherin. What do you mean?"
"It means this," Snape said. "We're involved in a desperate battle here, Miss Granger, and the Dark Lord doesn't play fair. He's not going to come at Potter through a frontal assault. He'll look for weaknesses in his friends--and you're the weakest link."
"I am not!" Hermione said, springing up. "How could you--I'm one of his best friends!"
"And you're also insufferable, short-tempered, proud, and a Mudblood outsider who feels rather sensitive about your considerable abilities," Snape pointed out with devastating honesty. "Loyalty can turn to resentment fairly quickly under the right circumstances--ones the other side can certainly contrive."
Hermione, reminded of Wormtail, could do nothing but nod and remember just how much she despised Snape. Greasy, rotten, *mean* creature.
"So what does any of that have to do with me studying in the kitchens?" she said with a certain exasperation. "Maybe I'd just like a little peace."
"From what?" Snape asked with disarming quiet. "From whom?"
Hermione's eyes were suddenly sore with unshed tears, but she would not cry in front of Snape. She glared at him instead, feeling indignant and sullen.
"I know what you're trying to say," she said icily. "But I'm not a coward and I wouldn't ever do anything--anything like that. I'm not interested in all that glory and fame and power if it means hurting my friends. And--and--I think you're horrible, torturing students who are just trying to get a little quiet away from everyone."
"Of course I'm horrible. It's in the job description that I be utterly horrible," Snape replied. "But am I completely wrong? Think about what you did all summer. Think about why you keep hiding in kitchens. Then tell me that I'm wrong."
"You're wrong," she said coldly, standing up. "Now if you'll excuse me, it's long past the time I should be in bed."
"Good night, then," he said, draining his drink. "As for your Potions assignment, remember that when it comes to brewing wildwood leaves, boiling the water will ruin the potency of the tincture--rather like green tea."
It was such a strange farewell that it reminded Hermione of all the troublesome thoughts and feelings that had rushed through her head over the last ten minutes. She was suddenly too afraid to think and fled, not even managing to say something angry in response to Snape's unpleasant suggestions.
Hermione ran through the darkened corridors of the school feeling her heart thump in her chest. She only slowed down when she could see the Fat Lady's portrait looming ahead.
"B-b-bloody hell," she said in a gasp. That had been awful, simply awful--and she should have known better. Snape wasn't trustworthy and of course he'd want to ruin her day by suggesting that she could do horrible things. Betray Harry! Why, she'd rather cut off her own wand arm than ever do anything to hurt Harry.
"What's that?" the Fat Lady said. Hermione caught herself. It wouldn't be a good idea to completely give away her secrets. The Fat Lady was a fearful gossip and the last thing Hermione needed was for people to know she'd been running through the halls in the middle of the night with Harry-betraying thoughts.
"Nothing," said Hermione. "Um--bee's knees."
The portrait swung open and Hermione scrambled into the Gryffindor tower. She was still trembling from shock and dismay, but upon seeing Harry, Ron, and a couple of other fifth-years talking noisily near the fire, she composed herself.
"Oy, Hermione!" Ron called boisterously. "Where have you been? Trying to lead a house-elf rebellion, no doubt."
Hermione immediately felt like things were back to normal. She really needed to stop hiding in the kitchens and stay in the tower like everyone else. Much less chance that strange, horrible thoughts would come into her head that way--and much less chance that she'd encounter Snape, either.
"I was studying for Potions, of course," she said primly, the feeling coming back to her body. "Much more practical than whatever you're doing, Ron--"
It would be all right soon. Of course it would be, because Hermione was proud to be Harry's friend and was glad to be a footnote if it meant she was doing good. Of course that was the case.
Just as soon as she stopped shaking.
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