(Sparked by a debate/discussion over Hermione and S.P.E.W. going on in one of my poll posts. And yes, in that post I'm all "Yay S.P.E.W!" because . . . slavery's bad, you know? In this ficlet, well, let's just say I can argue out of both sides of my mouth. *g*)
*Dedicated to "Happy" [enslaved] House-Elves everywhere!
For newly-minted Head Girl Hermione Granger, life didn't get any better than this.
Well rested after a fortnight's holiday with her cousins in Tenerife. Hermione sat down to breakfast the morning after the Sorting Ceremony and thought about how much she was looking forward to starting classes for her seventh and final year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. She had always liked the feeling she got at the start of a new term - almost shivery with the thrill of so many new things to learn - but this year was going to be the best yet.
She hadn't mentioned it to Harry and Ron (somehow the subject never came up during their reunion in Diagon Alley two days ago), but she had received three separate letters by Owl Post earlier in the week - two from well-respected Dutch Arithmancers and one from an innovative Brazilian Charms Developer - each one asking whether she'd be interested in serving an Apprenticeship under their supervision. Obviously their offers were dependent on how well she did on her N.E.W.T.'s, but false modesty aside, Hermione was certain that if she took this school year as seriously as she had taken the previous six, she'd be spoiled for choice.
Hermione smiled to herself as she thought about her future, barely noticing when Seamus shoved in between her and Ron on the long bench and started waving something in front of her face.
"Oi, Head Girl!" he said. "Timetables. Do you want me to pass them 'round?"
"Could you distribute them to the fifth years and higher, Seamus? I'll take the timetables for the young ones, just in case they have any questions."
He nodded, and handed over a stack of parchment, which Hermione tucked under her arm before heading down to the end of the long Gryffindor table.
When she returned to her seat fifteen minutes later, all her Housemates were practically bursting with excitement.
"Brilliant!" Ron said, pumping his fist in the air. "Percy told me word around the Ministry was that something like this was going to happen, but I didn't believe him."
"What is it, Ron? Why's everyone so excited about their timetables?"
Harry grinned broadly as he looked up from his own timetable. "To think I'd live to see Voldemort dead and gone and hear Hermione Granger say she didn't understand why people were excited about school timetables."
Hermione smiled crookedly at Harry, then turned her attention back to Seamus.
"Do you have mine?" she asked.
He nodded and handed the last piece of parchment to her, and she settled down to read what was on her timetable. She hoped Professor McGonagall had been able to convince the Ministry that a Timeturner would be . . . all at once the excited voices in the Great Hall started to blur into a dull roaring noise in her ears.
Was this somebody's idea of a joke? She wouldn't put it past Fred and George to have slipped a false timetable to Ron when . . . but, no, this definitely had the Hogwarts seal on it, and the boys had never been able to manufacture a convincing replica.
Hermione took a deep breath. All right, if it wasn't a joke, then it surely must be a mistake.
"Ron? Has somebody mixed up my timetable with yours?"
Ron frowned, then shook his head. "Nah, look . . . I've got Wizard Chess on mine. You don't have that, right?"
"Of course not," Hermione said, a touch of exasperation in her voice. "Wizard Chess has never been on the curriculum at Hogwarts."
"It is now," Harry said with a grin. "Didn't you see the announcement? It was in all the papers. Even The Quibbler got it right."
"Oi!" Ron said, elbowing Harry in the ribs. "That's my future family's business you're talking about there, mate."
"What announcement?" asked Hermione. If she sounded a bit shrill, that was only to be expected. Things weren't going quite the way she'd imagined they would be. "I canceled the Daily Prophet when I went on holiday. What's going on?"
"I reckon the Ministry decided our boy Harry here needed a rest after all his services to the nation in July," said Ron, slapping his friend on the back. "And what fun would it have been for him if he had to spend all year without his mates? None, of course. So we've all been released from our classes . . . all the seventh years."
"What? That's ridiculous," said Hermione. "There are classes on my timetable."
"Well, sort of." said Harry. "Take another look."
*Divination: Mondays and Thursdays. (at least it was with Firenze, who was taking the upper forms, and not that almost-complete fraud Trelawney).
*Muggle Studies: Tuesdays and Fridays.
Well, that was all right so far, even though she hadn't actually asked for Divination.
*Flying: Monday through Friday.
Hermione started and looked up in alarm. "Flying every day?"
"Yeah," Harry said, a blissful expression on his face. "Twice a day, in fact. And once on Saturday."
She bit her bottom lip and looked back at the parchment.
*Hippogriff Riding: Wednesdays and Thursday.
*Exploding Snap: Tuesdays and Saturdays.
*Comparative Chocolate: Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
She looked up again.
"But . . . I don't understand. Where are all the real classes."
"This is all there is," said Neville. "It's a sort of thanks to our year for all the work we did with the Order of the Phoenix in the end."
"Easy for you to talk," Hermione said shrilly. "Mandrake racing's right there on Thursdays."
Neville nodded, then blushed and looked down.
"What about Charms? Arithmancy? Transfigurations? Defense? Hell . . . what about Potions?"
Harry stared at Hermione. "You want to be back in the dungeons with Snape?"
"Well, no . . . but that's not the point, is it?" she said. "N.E.W.T.'s! How are we going to pass our N.E.W.T.'s"
All she met with was a sea of blank faces. Didn't they know N.E.W.T.'s were . . .
"Don't you know how important N.E.W.T.'s are to my . . . to our future?"
Lavender shrugged. "I don't care about them. Personally, I'd just as soon be released from classes."
"Same here," said Parvati.
"We're free, Hermione," Ron said, trying to look sympathetic, but failing completely. "Finally free."
"But . . . how could they do this? It'll . . . .ruin my life." Hermione was practically in tears by this point. "I didn't ask to be freed from my classes. What about my N.E.W.T.'s? What about my apprenticeships? What about . . . "
Hermione felt an insistent tug on the sleeve of her robes. She wiped her tear stained face with her handkerchief, and looked down.
There stood a House-Elf in a filthy tea towel, holding a bottle in her hand. The House-Elf nodded once, then handed the bottle to Hermione.
"Winky is thinking Miss Granger could use a Butterbeer."
Hermione choked back a sob, then took a long swallow, and sighed. "Miss Granger is thinking she could use some Old Ogdens."
The House-Elf patted Hermione on her hand. "Winky will see what she can do."