The students were desperate for relief. A professor was in need of mercy. One solution provided relief to them all. It came at a price.
For the first time he could remember, Harry wanted to say something to wipe the smug grin from Hermione's face. And she knew it. She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye and sat up straighter when she noticed his expression. Her grin lifted that much higher and he could swear he heard her sigh softly before she looked down at her parchment and began to review notes from the previous class session. After a few more seconds of glaring at her needlessly, Harry turned to Ron.
"You know she's going to rub this in our faces forever, right?" He didn't care that Hermione could hear him. It irritated Harry further that she seemed to snicker before catching herself.
Ron shrugged. "Yours, more like. I never said she wasn't right. I learned not to do that a long time ago."
"Yeah, but..." Harry frowned. "You did agree with me."
Another shrug from Ron. "I agreed something had to be done. It was the two of you fighting over whether the plan would work."
Harry didn't know what to make of his best friend's noncommittal attitude, but he was willing to bet it had something to do with the girl sitting on his other side, grinning into her copy of Confronting the Faceless. The two had become increasingly awkward around each other since the beginning of their sixth year. It hadn't helped matters that Ron had begun going out of his way to be nice to Hermione-to the point where even his sister had noticed. No one had been more surprised than Harry when Ron had immediately agreed with him about the plan to fix Snape. That is, until Hermione had come up with her own plan. Harry had been left to defend his idea. And Hermione had taken it as a personal challenge to prove she was right.
Which, naturally, she did.
"I can't believe you found someone who was willing to do it," Harry said, turning to talk to Hermione. "I mean, short of the Imperius Curse, who would-?"
"Good morning, class." With a slam of the door and the sound of heels clicking briskly across the floor, their Defense Against the Dark Arts professor entered the room, black robes flapping. Then Snape did something that made both Harry and Ron start in shock. He smiled.
"Today we're going to be discussing Inferi," Snape began. "Who can tell me what an Inferius is?"
Before anyone else could move, Hermione raised her hand and waved it in the air to get the professor's attention. Snape turned in her direction and she blurted the answer before he could call on her.
"Right as usual, Miss Granger," Snape said. "Twenty points to Gryffindor." Snape turned to the chalk board.
The room fell silent as every student looked back and forth between Hermione and Professor Snape, waiting for him to make anasty comment or admit the house points were a joke. When nothing of that nature happened, whispers started around the room. They grew louder when Professor Snape did not immediately yell out for silence. He merely stood at the front of the room, writing an outline for the day's lesson, grinning all the while.
Imagining why that was, Harry spent the rest of the class period trying not to be nauseated. He just barely made it.
"Tell me what you did." Harry sat next to Hermione in the Great Hall, ignoring calls and waves from other friends as he listened for her answer. Ron sat on her other side and began reaching for the platters of food in the center of the table.
"I did exactly what I said I would," Hermione responded. "What's that, Ron?"
"Roast beef," he said, biting into asandwich. "Don't change the subject," he said from behind a mouthful of food. "How the hell did you get Snape to be nice?" Ron swallowed and took another big bite. "I know what we were talking about last night, but I don't think it could've happened that fast."
"Believe it," Hermione said. "I was right. I just asked Professor McGonagall and she-"
Harry gasped. "You asked Professor McGonagall? She's old enough to be his mother."
"She's still a woman," Hermione responded. "And if this change in him is any indication, she knows what she's doing."
"Hermione, I'm eating!" Ron shuddered and wiped the crumbs he'd dribbled from his chin. "Of all the thoughts I'd want Obliviated out of my mind, that would be at the top of the list."
"Did you want me to tell you what happened or not?"
"With the two of them?" Ron asked. He put down his sandwich, a worried expression clouding his features.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "No. How Iasked." She looked down at her hands and began picking at the edge of one of her nails. "I thought a lot about what the two of you had said about how frustrating things can be for males. With that in mind, when I sat with Professor McGonagall, I asked if she and I could have a conversation about an adult topic." Hermione smiled. "I must have confused her, she asked me if I'm pregnant."
"What did you say?"
Both Harry and Hermione turned to Ron with surprised expressions. "I told her that I'm not, Ronald," Hermione responded after a moment. "Would I have reason to say otherwise?"
Blushing, Ron shook his head and went back to the half-finished sandwich on his plate.
"I told her that a number of students were concerned about a professor here. That he seemed to need something teaching us couldn't provide. Then I asked if it would be against school rules if we took up a collection and bought him some private time with a...counselor of sorts. Someone who could help him resolve this particular issue."
"What did she say?" Harry asked. He glanced over. Ron had stopped eating again, waiting for Hermione's response.
Hermione giggled. "She said if I was referring to Snape, the professors had already thought of that. Apparently, Dumbledore tried it the first year Professor Snape taught at Hogwarts. He was offended by the very idea and didn't speak to most of them for the better part of a month afterward."
"So why would he go for it now?" Harry asked.
"That's just it," Hermione said."Professor McGonagall was convinced he wouldn't go for someone who had to be paid, so she offered to...council him herself. She said if he accepted her offer of personal time, the only payment she would accept is from us." She paused to let that sink in. "Every time they're together, you'll have to serve detention."
"What? Us?" Ron asked. "What about you? This was your idea."
Hermione blushed and looked down at her nails again. "I have a different sort of punishment. She wants to...discuss things with me. What they-g-girl things," she stammered. "You're lucky. She's been looking for an assistant. She'll probably just have you organizing files and helping grade essays."
"Just that?" Ron asked. "It won't be too bad, then. I mean, how often can an old woman do that kind of thing?"
"You'd be surprised," Harry said without thinking. A vision of Molly Weasley popped into his mind and he shook his head quickly to clear it. There were some things better left in the far reaches of the imagination.
"You've told them of my conditions?"
All three students jumped and turned as Professor McGonagall stepped up to the table, her somber expression in stark contrast to the grin Professor Snape had been wearing in class.
"I...yes, we've gone over everything," Hermione said.
"Good," Professor McGonagall said."I hope you're willing to accept them. We all have certain sacrifices to make if we want to ensure Hogwarts is a pleasant environment for all."
"We understand, Professor," Harry said. "Detentions for every..."
"Counseling session," McGonagall supplied. "One hour for one hour. Make sure to keep your schedules clear. You already have detention every day this week."
"What?!" Ron and Harry exclaimed at the same time. "Just from last night?" Harry asked.
"And this morning." Professor McGonagall shrugged. "What can I say? I'm limber for an old woman," she remarked, giving Ron a pointed look. The redhead mimed gagging as the Transfiguration professor walked away.
"This is so, so wrong," Harry said."I saw it for myself and I still can't believe she's willing to do this."
"It's for the good of the school," Hermione said. "You said it yourself. We've all reached our end where Snape's concerned."
"Yeah, but Snape being nice is just creepy and weird," Ron said. "Plus, there's the detentions to put up with."
"If Professor McGonagall starts to enjoy what she's doing maybe she'll cut out that part of it," Hermione suggested.
"I don't even want to picture her enjoying anything with Snape." Ron pouted and mimed gagging again.
"It doesn't matter," Hermione said."She's willing to do it and at a small price to us. I think the results are well worth the sacrifice."
All three students stopped speaking as they watched Professor Snape enter the Great Hall and walk up to the High Table with a bounce in his step. Still grinning, he sat next to Professor McGonagall and winked at her before beginning to eat his lunch.
"I might be sick," Ron said. "I don't think I can get used to this."
"Just try not to picture it," Harry said. "And be grateful you don't have Professor McGonagall's part in this."
As Professor McGonagall lifted her water glass and grinned back, the students found that was something they could all be grateful for.