CHAPTER 2: Masquerade
The start of term came off without a hitch. Hermione had taken her place at the High Table between Professor McGonagall and Professor Flitwick, where the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher usually sat. Snape had grumpily informed them, as they filed up to the High Table on the night of the start of term feast, that he refused to give up the seat he had occupied for the last twenty-one years. He had been forced to give up the rooms and office he had lived in and made his home, he groused. He was not about to give up his chair as well. He sneered a bit at Hermione before tossing in, “I can’t see my Slytherins as well from all the way over there, either.”
Dumbledore had been wonderful with her introduction. He had acclaimed her a war hero, who had played a key part in the downfall of the Dark Lord. The stories were more for the benefit of the new students who were Muggle-born. Those who had at least one magical parent had heard the stories of the war and knew perfectly who she was. Dumbledore couldn’t resist throwing in a passing reference to Professor Snape as a war hero as well and smiled slightly, as he had elicited a very dark sneer from the younger wizard. When Dumbledore had finished introducing her, Hermione stood for a moment to a great round of applause that echoed off the walls of the Great Hall. She blushed slightly and nodded her head, her loose curls bouncing a bit, before sitting back down again.
Hermione had been petrified the next day. Her first class was with the third year Gryffindors and Slytherins. She remembered quite well the terrible taunting that went on between the members of these two houses, knew how pointless and ruthless it was to begin with. She had left the classroom door open as she prepared for their arrival, realizing for the first time how terribly stuffy it was down in the dungeons. She sat at her desk, idly glancing at the clock every few minutes as she tried to put some finishing touches on her syllabus. It was only moments before the bell when she noticed several faces peeking around the edge of the doorframe. She drew in a deep breath and steeled herself. It’s just like taking an exam, she thought to herself. You can do those. You can do this, Granger!
She stood from her desk and walked steadily and briskly to the back of the classroom. “Well, come on. We haven’t got all day,” she said firmly to the students who had lined up outside the door. “When the door’s open, feel free to come in from now on. Find a seat, quickly. We’ve got a lot to be getting on with.”
The first half an hour or so went smoothly as she had planned on spending the first day explaining some of her rules and what kind of work load they could expect from her. She was just outlining the first reading and essay assignment when she caught sight of two rather large sized Slytherins heckling an impish looking Gryffindor at the back table. Hermione felt her face go red with indignation as she slammed her book onto her podium loudly. Every eye in the room was fixed upon their tiny teacher, who now looked as if she could have taken on the Dark Lord single-handed. She cleared her throat loudly and gripped the edges of the podium until her knuckles were white.
“I am sure you are all aware that paying attention is of the utmost importance in this class. Now, if it is too difficult for you to get along with your classmates no matter what House they are in, be prepared for me to delve out punishments. House rivalries beyond those for the House or Quidditch Cups are pointless. For every snide comment I hear from any of you…yes, Gryffindors, I mean you as well…for every snide comment I hear from any of you about a member of another House, I will not only remove House points, you will also serve detentions,” she said, almost through clenched teeth. She looked at every face in the room before she continued. “Have I made myself clear?”
The students were quick to agree and the two Slytherins at the back table quickly clammed up and began ignoring their Gryffindor tablemate. Hermione quickly finished giving them their first assignment and allowed them to pack up a few minutes before the bell. She exhaled a long breath as the students filed out of the room. Perhaps she had been too harsh on them. She didn’t want the students to hate her, but she didn’t want them to walk all over her either. It didn’t matter now, her first impression was made and there was nothing she could do to take it back. She gathered up her papers and made her way into her office, where she waited for her next class after lunch.
It had been a week since that first class and Hermione was beginning to hit her stride with the students. The word went around quickly that it was dangerous to misbehave in Professor Granger’s classroom. The whispers filled the Great Hall as students whipped from one House table to another, Slytherins as much as anyone else. Although they wouldn’t admit it, it seemed as if the Slytherin students were glad someone had finally called them on their bully tactics. It was quickly established among the student body that Potions was now a class to look forward to rather than one to dread unless your House color was green.
Hermione was sitting at the High Table that morning, talking to Professor Flitwick about her year studying Charms in France. He seemed quite interested in the spells the French Charms Master had developed and was begging her to teach them to him as soon as she got a chance. Hermione tried to be nice, as she had always been fond of Professor Flitwick, and claimed she already had a multitude of grading and planning to do. The truth was, she didn’t want to be around anyone more than she had to. It was bad enough to sit at the High Table and watch the students laughing and joking about with each other and wish she could have that. She grimaced slightly, realizing that she hadn’t laughed in two years, not since Ron had ended things with her.
It was more disturbing, however, to sit at the High Table and try to make pleasant conversation with McGonagall and Flitwick when a man who so obviously despised her sat four chairs away. Snape had not spoken more than a grunted “Good morning, Professor Granger” to her since he had helped her reset the wards on her private stores. When he did condescend enough to look at her, he sneered and his dark eyes flashed with malice. A week into the term and he had already deducted over two hundred points from the various houses and given six detentions with Filch. He was in a foul mood and it seemed, at least to Hermione, that it was her fault.
Of course, it probably was. She hadn’t exactly been warm and inviting to him since she had arrived. It was difficult for her to be that way these days, and more so if she was trying to be that way around Snape. He must have been annoyed with all of those letters she sent begging for an internship. No doubt Dumbledore had tried to influence him somehow, which certainly wouldn’t have helped the situation. If Hermione knew one thing at all about Severus Snape, it was that he would rather be in control of a situation or be dead. How hard it must have been for him, to be forced to rely on Harry, the son of the man he hated so much, for his salvation all those years. The battle couldn’t have been any better, standing by and protecting the Boy-Who-Lived while he garnered the glory of the Wizarding World yet again. And then, at the victory celebration, what it must have cost him to…
Oh, don’t think about that, Granger, Hermione berated herself as she stared into her cup of coffee. Think about that and sooner or later you’ll start thinking about Ron…See what you’ve done now, you prat? Don’t go getting all teary-eyed in front of everyone! She swiped absently at her watering eyes and busied her hands with pushing her eggs around on her plate with her fork and knife. The stupid prat of a Weasley was still tearing her heart to shreds and there was nothing she could do about it. How had she let herself be so blind? She thought she loved him. She thought he loved her. The first few times his eyes, and his hands, roamed she thought he was just having trouble adjusting to being in a committed relationship. After the twelfth time, Hermione realized that the only one in a committed relationship when it came to her and Ron was she. He could have cared less, but she realized it too late. Her heart was in bruised pieces before he ended their…whatever…for good.
The morning post was beginning to arrive. A familiar snow-white owl swooped through the mass of gray and brown barn owls and came to rest on the table in front of Hermione’s plate. She reached out and stroked Hedwig’s feathers softly before undoing the letter tied to her leg. Slipping her finger beneath the seal and cracking it open, Hermione felt her heart sink a little further into her chest. She quickly read the letter Harry had scrawled to her.
Congratulations on getting a job at Hogwarts! We’re all proud of you! Ginny and I wanted to let you know that we are getting married! You have to be here, at the Burrow, on December 24th. Ginny sends her love.
Hermione absently fed Hedwig a slice of bacon before slipping the letter into the pocket of her robes. She thought about the letter as she watched Hedwig fly off through the rafters and out into the clear blue sky. No “how are you” or “we miss you” or “how’re you holding up.” Could it be possible for someone to feel so terrible, so brokenhearted over something that was supposed to be a happy occasion? Not that she ever fancied Harry, but it would have been nice to know that he worried about her. Of course, no one worried about the bushy-haired Gryffindor know-it-all.
You’ve got a while before your first class, go down to your room and have a nice cry. No sense in being a big girl when no one’s watching. Yes, a good cry would do her good. The bell rang loudly overhead and the students began filing out on their way to their morning lessons. Hermione slipped out of a side door of the Great Hall and wound her way through a labyrinth of passages and staircases until she reached the dungeons. The tears were welling up into her honey colored eyes before she had even opened the door to her chambers.
Hermione slammed the door behind her and warded it, adding a Silencing Charm for good measure. It wouldn’t do to have someone hear her crying her eyes out. She flicked her wand toward the mantle and a music box sprang open. It began playing a slow, melancholy tune as she sank to the floor, the tears pouring down her cheeks in rivers. The words wrapped around her and seeped into her, the truth of them chilling her to her bones.
Child of the wilderness
Born into emptiness
Learn to be lonely
Learn to find your way in darkness
Who will be there for you,
comfort and care for you?
Learn to be lonely
Learn to be your one companion
Ever dreamed out in the world
There are arms to hold you?
You\'ve always known
Your heart was on its own
So laugh in your loneliness
Child of the wilderness
Learn to be lonely
Learn how to love life that is lived alone
Learn to be lonely
life can be lived
life can be loved
She drew a deep breath and shuddered as the tears welled up anew. Leather and books and brandy, she thought sadly. His smell. Why had she bewitched the thing to play songs that reminded her of Snape? Hermione had never felt more alone in her life and she was. There was no one to talk to now. Harry was busy serving as Head of the Auror office at the Ministry of Magic and he was far too wrapped up in himself and Ginny Weasley to care what was going on with her. Ron was helping to manage the Chudley Cannons, not that he would have spoken to her if she wanted him to. She had grown apart from her parents since the war, and, besides, they didn’t understand much about her to begin with. She had always been different and she had always been alone, even when she had her two best friends at her side.
Snape had just sent his fifth year Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws packing and was already tired of having to break up whispered conversations about Professor Granger. The stories of her signature first class had swept the school like the plague and the students were so keyed up by her presence that they dared to not give him all of their attention. Filch would have two hardworking Ravenclaws in his hands that weekend and Hufflepuff was already trailing in the House Cup by a hundred and fifty points. That would teach them to not pay attention in his presence!
He was seething as he sank into the chair behind his desk at the front of the room. The classroom door was slammed shut and may Merlin help the first student who came through it. Snape picked up his grading quill and dipped it into his ever-present pot of red ink. He set the quill to parchment, forcefully slashing though the wrong answers on the quiz he had just given. True, he wasn’t much for giving written tests, but that was when he taught Potions. Defense Against the Dark Arts was something wholly different. There were a large number of curses and other things that the Ministry simply forbid students under seventh year from seeing. So, Snape was forced to give written assignments and this batch of dunderheads was no better than the ones he had instructed in Potions.
Well, Severus, here you are, a rather pesky voice in his head intoned. It had been there for years, constantly nagging at him. He ignored it most of the time but sometimes it snuck up on him so quickly that he couldn’t get away from it. Here you are, free of Voldemort…oh, do stop flinching, you great bat. I recall a time when you would grovel at his feet and call him “master.” You’ve got no one to answer to, save Dumbledore whenever the barmy old codger decides to insinuate himself into your life. You’ve got the job you’ve always wanted. Shouldn’t you be happy?
Snape sneered savagely as he crossed out a wrong answer on the test paper in front of him. Damn his useless conscience. Yes, you should be, shouldn’t you, Severus? But you’re not. You’re positively miserable and lonely. Don’t try to argue, you know you are! And don’t try that, “no one likes me because I used to be a Death Eater” garbage because it’s a lie and you know it. No one likes you because you won’t let them. You just hide behind the faithful standby Death Eater excuse because it’s convenient.
He made another great red slash mark across the paper, nearly slicing it in two. He growled angrily and swatted his hand near his head as if trying to shoo away a bothersome fly. That’s what his conscience was, a stupid and bothersome fly that popped up in the most uncomfortable and horrible times. He threw his quill onto his desk and rested his head in his hands. Snape growled again, this time so forcefully that it threatened to make his throat raw. The drawer of his desk was open slightly and Snape could see one of Hermione’s letters peeking out. He must have forgotten to move them into the desk in his rooms. Oh no, the voice was at it again.
Never did answer those, did you? Ah, I see. One of the great heroes of the downfall of the Dark Lord is petrified of writing a letter to a girl! I always knew that courage and pride you had was such a joke. Ever thought of what might have happened if you had answered them? Another violent growl escaped his throat. It must have hurt her, sending letter after letter and yet hearing nothing in return. Poor thing, I bet she doesn’t even know why you never answered them.
“She knows damn well why they weren’t answered, now bugger off,” he mumbled into his palms. “I want to be left alone.”
The little voice in his head laughed. Alone? Stupid prat, that’s all you’ve ever been. And that’s the way you’ll stay if you don’t stop being so bloody proud!
Hermione nearly missed her class because she had spent the last two hours after breakfast crying. The music box on the mantle had played on, the songs just multiplying the pain she felt in her chest. It tightened and jumped when she noticed the time on the clock. She pulled herself off the floor and wiped at her eyes with a tissue. A quick glance in the mirror told her that she looked terrible but there was little she could do about it. Her eyes were red and swollen, as was the tip of her nose. She smiled grimly, a smile that looked more like a grimace, and steeled herself.
If there was one thing that Hermione Jane Granger was good at, it was getting the job done despite however she might feel about it. Staring into the mirror, Hermione set her face in a pleasant mask and forced herself to think of her students. She could finish crying later, but they needed her now. She gathered up her things and made her way back to her classroom, where her second year Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors were waiting in their seats. She smiled at them and began her lecture, knowing in the back of her mind that at the end of the period, her public masquerade would be over and the private tears would flow freely again.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Thank you so much to those of you who reviewed! My muse was in overdrive today and I couldn’t concentrate on my homework until I got this chapter out. The next few chapters may take a while because I have a few projects and a couple exams coming up in the next week or so. I’ll try to get Chapter 3 up sometime this weekend, but no promises.
The song Hermione listens to was actually the inspiration for the first chapter but I couldn’t find a way to make it fit so I added it here. The song came from the movie soundtrack to the Phantom of the Opera. You can find it here: http://www.metrolyrics.com/lyrics/906347594/Phantom_Of_The_Opera/Learn_to_Be_Lonely
You can also find the lyrics to the song that inspired this chapter here: http://www.metrolyrics.com/lyrics/1367660762/Phantom_Of_The_Opera/masquerade/why_so_silent
You Are Not Alone by ladysnarky