Chapter 14 : The Once and Future Gryffindor
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Chapter Fourteen: The Once and Future Gryffindor
Professor Dumbledore had gotten pretty far down the hallway by the time Peter spoke, and his shadow loomed over the two students at the end of the corridor as he walked toward them. By the time he reached them, Hermione was very nervous and could tell that Peter was, too—he still held his wand in his hand, which was shaking slightly. If it had been anyone else, she would have reached over to provide some sort of physical comfort, but Hermione’s feelings were still in too much disarray to make such a big step. Instead, she stood a little behind him as the Headmaster opened his mouth to speak.
“Do you think Miss James was placed in the wrong House, Mr. Pettigrew?” Dumbledore asked, his expression completely unreadable.
“I don’t know, sir,” Peter admitted, “but I overheard a conversation that suggested as much.”
Hermione started in surprise. This was a new development—the very evidence she had been trying to come up with. Hermione supposed that she should have realized that key problem—she would be the last person to hold such an exchange around, after all. Her astonished reaction seemed to remind Dumbledore that the three of them were standing in the hallway.
“Let’s talk about this somewhere more private, shall we?” He spoke briskly, but as they turned to walk in the direction of his office, Professor Dumbledore patted her on the shoulder gently and smiled when she looked at him. Once the password had been spoken to unlock the spiral stairs, Hermione climbed them wondering if the phrase would be changed shortly—until she realized that there was no reason yet to distrust Peter Pettigrew. In fact, she had every reason right now to trust him.
“Well, then—have a seat, both of you.” The old man turned to tend to Fawkes as they each settled into elaborate velvet chairs in front of Dumbledore’s massive desk. Hermione felt horrible—she wasn’t sure just how to react to Peter, but he had just stopped whatever viciousness Malfoy had planned for her, and instead of acting properly grateful, she’d been distant and frightened.
Then again, he may have expected behavior like this from anyone after a week or so in Slytherin.
“What exactly did you overhear?” the professor asked, handing a tray of sweets to each of them in turn.
“Two of the Slytherin Seventh Years talking about the Sorting Hat,” Peter said in a rush, as if he’d been holding his breath. “One was telling the other that charming it was more than a ‘Welcoming Feast prank.’” The boy gripped the arms of his chair tightly and leaned forward earnestly. “One of the boys was Malfoy. I was going to wait until I had more proof, but—”
“But it’s exceedingly difficult for a Gryffindor to watch any sort of injustice,” Dumbledore cut in with a knowing smile. “I know—that’s an oversimplification,” he added, as Peter opened his mouth as if to say something. “What led you to believe their conversation was about Miss James in particular?”
“Well,” Peter faltered and looked a little sheepish. “Most of the First Years that are sorted to Slytherin are relatives of Slytherin alumni,” he trailed off, going slightly red.
“You mean that it’s easier to tell which of the new students will be sorted to Slytherin,” Dumbledore supplied helpfully.
“Exactly!” the younger man said, the flush fading slightly from his face and neck. Hermione knew exactly what his problem had been—she’d have described the typical Slytherin sorting as ‘inbred’ on a bad day, and ‘predetermined’ on a good one. The truth was, the population of purebloods by its very nature had to be diminishing, with a side effect of making a House based on such a thing very easy to predict. One didn’t speak in such terms to one’s Headmaster, however.
“I was sorted last, as well,” Hermione spoke up for the first time.
“That, too.” Peter nodded.
“This is definitely some food for thought,” Professor Dumbledore said soberly. Just then, a wild assortment of sounds filled the room to announce that the time was 11:00. “Speaking of injustice, it would hardly be fair of me to keep the two of you from your beds,” he said, standing. He walked over to Peter, putting a gentle hand on the boy’s shoulder much like what he’d done for Hermione in the hall. “It was the right thing, what you did. I promise to investigate this further, tomorrow. Right now, I want to ask Hermia a few questions—will you excuse us?” Peter nodded, seemingly relieved that he was escaping without further interrogation. He got up and had almost made his way to the bottom of the stone stairs before Hermione leapt to her feet and called down to him.
“Peter, I—thank you.”
Their eyes met, and Hermione had to admit that she saw none of the desperation in them that so characterized the Pettigrew of her own time. He nodded at her gravely, and continued on out of sight.
“’Still waters run deep,’ I believe is the Muggle saying,” Dumbledore observed. You have no idea, she thought.
The Headmaster was leaning against his desk next to her chair, and as she passed him to sit down she observed that he was wearing purple velvet slippers with golden tassels, something that lightened her mood considerably. They sat in silence for a long time until Hermione realized that the older man was giving her a chance to speak without her observations being tainted by whichever direction his questions might tend.
“I think he’s right,” she said, simply. “Almost any conversation—if you could call them that—I’ve had with Lucius Malfoy has included a snide comment on his part about how smart I am, or whether I thought I should have been in Ravenclaw instead.” She looked up at the professor and continued with true conviction in her voice. “But, sir—hardly anyone inhabits every single attribute that their House is known for, and even if they did, it wouldn’t stop them from being brave, intelligent, and ambitious at the same time!”
“If it helps, I completely agree with you in that regard,” Dumbledore said, nodding. “I’ll see what I can find out, tomorrow.” He looked down at her and smiled, a familiar twinkle appearing in his light blue eyes. “I promise to base my conclusions on more than just personality and temperament!”
They both laughed, and Hermione stood to leave, covering her yawn quickly with a hand as she crossed the office to the wooden door at the other end.
“Hermione?” Dumbledore called out, causing her to grin at the unexpected pleasure that hearing her true name caused. She stopped to see what he wanted. “I don’t want you to elaborate more than a yes or no, but—were you originally sorted to Slytherin?”
Hermione was feeling brave, so she replied, “I thought you didn’t want to create a particular bias in your investigation, sir.”
“I find I cannot help myself!” It was a delightfully unexpected answer, even from Dumbledore.
“In that case—no, I was not.”
It took all of her willpower not to color that statement with any adjectives that described how she felt about it.
The next morning, Hermione went to breakfast with the gold and crimson scarf she’d secretly transfigured on her first day hidden deep in her book bag. She found it gave her the confidence of someone who knew a secret about themselves that made them special, no matter what their surroundings. Today those surroundings, she found out not long after she sat down, included one Severus Snape.
He settled himself down across from her as if this were a regular occurrence, and she marveled that he could somehow be thinner than his professorial self twenty years in the future. He was just as maddening, however—ten minutes later he still hadn’t spoken a word.
“Is this some sort of punishment?” she asked him tartly as she buttered a scone. “You know, ‘mouth off to Malfoy, earn a breakfast with the new girl?’”
“I knew you wouldn’t be able to handle it,” Snape said in a neutral voice, his eyes never leaving his copy of The Daily Prophet.
“Handle what?” Hermione asked, wondering if he somehow knew about last night’s conversation with the Headmaster.
“The silence,” he replied, raising an eyebrow.
“Well!” she huffed, hating him for scoring such a large point on her. “If you knew me so well, why did you bother sitting down here?” It was a pathetic retort, and they both knew it.
“I needed my daily dose of sunshine.”
Severus stood, folded his newspaper into his bag, and walked away without another word. Hermione watched him go, her feelings conflicted; his irascibility was almost endearing first thing in the morning.
Their Potions lesson that day was one Hermione remembered from the first time Slughorn had taught it to her N.E.W.T. class, and thus was much easier this time around. She cursed her luck, however—she’d botched something pretty badly that day, and received a lesser grade as a result. Now, she had a chance to do better, but it wouldn’t count for anything! Hermione wondered if there were detailed records kept somewhere in the castle. If she could somehow persuade the portly professor to use her marks from today instead…
There was a muffled thump beside her and she looked over to see that Sirius Black had tripped over her burlap bag of books; the strap must have been in the aisle.
“I’m awfully sorry,” she said, flushing slightly as he apologized at the exact same time. They both smiled sheepishly as Hermione began to collect the books that had spilled from the container, and Sirius stretched out an arm to retrieve one that had slid under an adjacent table. Though she reached for it, the young man gallantly took her bag to place it neatly on top of the rest of the contents. She saw his eyes widen slightly as he did so, and her heart sank. He must have seen the scarf! She’d stuffed it into a corner of the bag, but it had gotten shaken about during the day and—
“Quite a lot of books you’ve got in there,” Sirius said, smiling at her again as he replaced her bag and its strap under the table at her feet. “It must get pretty heavy.”
“Yes, it does,” she said, hoping her relief didn’t show in her voice. “It doesn’t help that I carry all of them even on days I don’t have the class,” she admitted.
“It makes you feel better to do that,” he suggested shrewdly, his ears turning red as though he hadn’t meant to say something so personal. Hermione nodded, suddenly shy. She never really thought about it in that way before, but now that he’d said it she knew that was exactly why she carried them with her. Sirius had just turned to go back to his own table when the door at the back of the room opened and a diminutive blonde girl in Hufflepuff regalia asked for a ‘Miss Hermia James.’
“It’s all right, dear,” Professor Slughorn said pleasantly, “you’ve turned your vial in already.”
Hermione hefted her already packed bag, thanked Lorelei for her contribution to their potion, and started for the doorway, stopping only when she saw a foot moving, out of the corner of her eye. She looked down to see the strap of Sirius Black’s school bag, which had ‘mysteriously’ appeared on the path to the door.
Hermione was in a good mood. Instead of doing as she normally would, which would be to either ignore the thing entirely or kick it out of the way, she walked right past it and said something under her breath so just Sirius could hear her.
“It’ll take more than a pathetic attempt like that to get me to fall at your feet, Mr. Black.”
Somehow she managed to leave the room without once looking back to see what his reaction was.
“I’m sorry to call you out of class,” Professor Dumbledore said when she reached his office, “but I wanted to speak to you before dinner.”
“I was already done with my assignment,” she assured him. “I am surprised to see you so soon, however…” Hermione trailed off, realizing if she elaborated it might offend the man across the desk. What she really wanted to ask was how he’d managed to find out what he wanted to know in so short a time. The Headmaster hadn’t made Order of Merlin, First Class for nothing, however—he guessed the problem immediately.
“You want to know why I’ve called you back so early,” he said, shaking his head when she flushed scarlet and started to apologize. “No need to apologize,” he said, gently. “You remember the Pensieve?” Hermione shut her eyes for a long moment and nodded, still embarrassed. Of course!
“Wait,” she said, popping her eyes back open as she realized the importance of what he’d just implied. “What did you see?”
“Enough to believe that there was more going on than just a Sorting Ceremony.”
Hermione wished it wasn’t fashionable for old, wise wizards to be inscrutable.
“May I ask you a few things, Hermione?”
She nodded, not yet trusting herself to speak after putting her foot in it earlier. “Why didn’t you bring this to me earlier?” Hermione sighed deeply, the kind of sigh that tells the observer that you have a lot to say and you’re not quite sure how to start.
“First of all,” she said, helping herself to a cup of tea as she spoke, “I know a lot about the attitudes of the students in Slytherin—most students do, after six years,” she said quickly, not wishing to sound like a know-it-all. “I don’t think I would have been treated very well there if it became known that I was questioning my placement.”
“Fair enough,” Dumbledore said, nodding.
“Secondly, I can’t imagine how badly it would have looked to stop directly after my sorting to claim that there’d been some sort of mistake,” she laughed, imagining the looks on the faces of everyone and anyone in the room. Sobering a little, she continued, “The real reason, however, is—I know things. Things that are hard not to want to tell people, and the best way to avoid telling someone something is to avoid them.” It was the closest she could come to saying that without giving specifics.
“So you chose to remain where you were in order to prevent yourself from altering the future,” the Headmaster clarified, making it sound quite a bit worse than the way she’d imagined it. He didn’t allow her to dwell on that, instead asking, “What is it about Slytherin House that makes you feel you don’t belong there?”
Hermione was taken aback at first, but then she forced herself to look at the question by looking to its source; as an educator. Even if a mistake had been made, if it wasn’t a serious one, the best solution might be to let it lie. Hermione knew that wouldn’t work, even if she wasn’t being treated like a Goblin rebel in the Middle Ages by the students in Slytherin. Hermione knew just what to say to explain what the true problem was.
“I’m Muggle-born, sir,” she said, watching his eyebrows shoot up in surprise, knowing at that moment that her Slytherin days were almost over.
“Well that won’t do, will it?” he asked rhetorically. “You know, even as a Gryffindor, I never really subscribed to the rivalry as much as the other students in my year.” As Dumbledore spoke, he rose and went over to a bookshelf along the circular wall. “It seemed to me that Salazar Slytherin was just more specific about what he wanted than the other Founders,” he continued, placing a stepstool in front of the bookcase, which was too high for him to reach the top of. “I would be a poor Headmaster indeed if I allowed something like a prank to violate the wishes of one of our educating pioneers.”
Hermione had fully expected to see the old wizard come down from the stepstool with the Sorting Hat, or something equally relevant to their conversation, but instead he held something that looked like a long stick with an elaborate twining of twig-like appendages at one end. She simply stared.
“Please forgive me,” the professor said, unabashed, “I have an itch in the center of my back that has been bothering me for months—I finally remembered where I left this.” He began to use the strange device, and she looked away, not wanting to disturb his strange ritual.
“Sir—about the sorting?” Hermione wasn’t sure she’d ever understand wizards.
“Yes, yes,” he said, rubbing his hands together in a satisfied gesture and putting his back-scratcher down again, “I think we’ll have to sort you again, tonight at dinner.”
“Déjà vu all over again,” Hermione said under her breath. Then, louder, “Please don’t promise me it’s the last time,” she joked, “I wouldn’t want to jinx it. Three times is enough for me!”
Hermione was completely calm as she sat down for the last time at the Slytherin table with her supper. She found her emotional state quite remarkable; the two previous times she was waiting to be sorted, she was an emotional wreck—this time she knew there would be a huge uproar, and she was as calm as she’d be picking daisies.
What she really wondered was if any student had ever been re-sorted before. She didn’t remember seeing anything like that in Hogwarts, A History, and she’d been sure to read as much as she could about sorting on the train ride to the school.
This is not how I imagined I would be making Hogwarts History, she thought with irony. Her body’s only concession to the stress of the moment was a slight fluttering of her stomach as Professor Dumbledore stood up to make an announcement.
“It has come to my attention,” he said in a booming voice that commanded the notice of everyone in the room. “That a student in this room was improperly assigned to one of the four Houses.” A ripple of shock rang through the room, but Hermione remained steadfastly attentive to the man at the front of the room. “Not only will I be speaking to those responsible for this…stunt,” his tone told his audience all they needed to know about his feelings on the matter, “but I would like to correct the problem itself by re-sorting the student in question.” Necks craned all throughout the room as many students sought to discern which one of them was the unfortunate that was to be singled out.
Rather than trumpet her name for everyone to remember, Professor Dumbledore gestured for her to come to him. She was grateful that he’d decided to forgo the little stool, this time.
“I do this in public,” the Headmaster said, “so that there can be no mistake and no accusations of favoritism.” With that, he lifted the old Sorting Hat and placed it on her head.
Slytherin, was it? it asked her incredulously. Whoever did that was daft. You’re undoubtedly a…
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