Chapter 15 : New Beginnings
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-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Chapter Fifteen: New Beginnings
Hermione had never doubted it during the time she had spent in Slytherin, but hearing the Hat tell her where she truly belonged made her feel so happy that she was surprised she didn’t run headlong to the Gryffindor table. Of course, Hermione being Hermione, what ran through her head during that long walk was also curiosity at the significance of what the magical object had said to her. Did spending six years in Gryffindor change her from a possible Ravenclaw into an undisputed candidate for Gryffindordom? She resolved to spend more brain power on the subject when she wasn’t the object of an entire room’s scrutiny.
When Hermione focused her attention outward rather than inward, she was given a lovely surprise: Lily Evans had gotten to her feet and come to welcome her with open arms. While—understandably—the rest of the Gryffindors’ reactions seemed to be mixed, she was touched that the one person whose opinion she cared about the most had chosen to make such a public statement about who her friends were. Hermione hugged Harry’s mom in the middle of the Great Hall and vowed to remember that moment forever.
As she followed her redheaded friend to her new table, Hermione remembered something important. She took out her wand and cast a quick spell, transforming her outfit to crimson and gold instead of the Slytherin colors she had been sporting. A little cheer went up from the Gryffindor table as she did so; she didn’t care to see what the reaction was from the silver and green end of the room. Lily stopped around the middle of the long table, waiting to introduce her to people she’d known about for years. Hermione greeted everyone in turn, wondering what their opinion was of her, and knowing they couldn’t possibly guess what her opinion was of them. She looked at the four boys arrayed around the table and saw no mistrust, no suspicion—no hesitation. She knew she would find out eventually if this was merely out of deference to Lily’s feelings or not—either way, she appreciated it greatly. The hairs on the back of her neck seemed to tingle with the knowledge of just how many people must be looking at her, however.
“Can we sit down?” Hermione asked apologetically. “It’s just that I feel like I have a sign over my head saying ‘Curious Object of Interest’ and it wouldn’t be as conspicuous if I were sitting.” They all laughed at this observation, and Lily settled herself down across from James, with Remus on her left. Hermione sat down beside her across from Peter, who smiled shyly.
It was a decision-making moment for Hermione. She thought about all the years she’d fought with her friends about what was fair and unfair; how hard it had been and how awful it had made her feel to give up on the House Elf cause—even though she’d known in her heart that they were happy in their state of being…those two things converged into the hardest choice she’d ever had to make in her life. If the boy across from her had never spoken up, it may have taken her weeks to discover what he’d overheard, perhaps longer to finally speak up to Dumbledore. And, as hard as it was for her to admit, he had not done anything yet. The Sorting Hat was right—she truly belonged in Gryffindor:
Hermione Granger reached across the table to clasp Peter Pettigrew’s hand.
“Thank you so much,” she said in a low voice that shook with emotion—some relevant to her comment, some not.
“You’re welcome,” he said in a very quiet voice, after taking a small sidelong glance at the rest of his group of friends. Peter looked slightly taken aback, though he squeezed her hand as he spoke, nonetheless. Hermione was confused at his strange behavior until she looked in the same direction surreptitiously. Sirius, James, Remus, and Lily were all looking at the two of them openmouthed. Each still gripping the other’s hand, Hermione and Peter’s eyes met with the knowledge of what the others must be thinking. They both burst out laughing.
“You err, didn’t tell them, did you?” Hermione managed once she’d caught her breath, not turning her head to acknowledge the four pairs of shocked eyes.
“No, didn’t think of it,” Peter said in the same low voice, trying hard not to start laughing again.
“Think we should put them out of their misery?” she suggested, finding it hard not to look to her left.
“I guess it has been long enough,” he agreed, squeezing one last time and letting go. They both resumed eating, though to their great amusement they continued to receive shocked looks for a few more minutes.
“Are you…going to tell us what happened?” Lily finally gave in.
“Thank you!” Sirius said, reaching over James to get a piece of bread instead of requesting it be passed to him. “About time someone asked.”
“What was stopping you?” she said, rolling her eyes.
“What else?” shrugged Remus.
“Are they always like this?” Hermione asked, her stomach already starting to hurt from laughing.
“Worse!” her new companions answered in a chorus of voices.
Hermione watched as Peter explained what had happened, her attention caught by the liveliness of the students around her. Instead of congregating in small clumps, whispering as though their thoughts and feelings were trade secrets, the Gryffindor students laughed and talked, cheered and joked; she could have been teleported back to her own time that very second and had a hard time telling the sounds apart.
“Hermia?” Lily called her attention back to the present—or the past, as it was in Hermione’s case. “I need to go to a faculty meeting—the Head Boy and Girl are asked to attend—and I don’t trust these chumps to show you the right way to the tower.” An inordinate amount of coughs and sneezes accompanied this statement, ceasing the second Lily looked up from her plate.
“Don’t even try to look innocent,” she said, her hands on her hips.
“We have to try?” James asked, batting his eyes at her.
“Shall we?” Hermione urged, her lips pressed tightly together to prevent herself from giving the boys the satisfaction of her laughter.
Though Lily left her at the stairway that led to the Gryffindor tower, Hermione felt as though she had something to do before she walked through it and became a true Gryffindor again. Mistrustful of the stairs—she wouldn’t put past even the normally stationary ones to start moving if she sat down to write something—she located a bench and took out a scrap of parchment paper. She felt very strongly about this message, and intended to deliver it as soon as she finished the letter.
Dear Professor Slughorn,
The passion for glory truly is the torch of the mind, and I am sorry for your sake that your password must be changed over such an unfortunate incident. While the students in your House weren’t very friendly—a situation I believe is more to do with a natural mistrust of strangers—I regret that I had to leave it in such a way. I have nothing but respect for you, and hope that you do not bear me any ill will for choosing to be re-sorted once the truth came out. I want you to know that, should the subject of House points ever come up, I will fight like a tigress to ensure that those I won for Slytherin while under your roof remain there. I like to think I do my best no matter whom I represent, and there is no reason to punish an entire group of students (and faculty!) for a single person’s transgression.
Hermione hoped that this small gesture would help the genial man understand that she had a great deal of respect for him whether or not he was her Head of House. She wondered belatedly if Professor Dumbledore had spoken to him at all before he sorted her again. She hoped so; it would be quite an odd experience to have shown up to dinner to find one’s newest student being sorted away from you. Hermione folded the letter in half as she hurried along the hallways to the second-floor Potions classroom, very relieved that this decade’s professor had not chosen the dungeons to reside in. After sliding the short missive under the wooden door of the Slughorn’s classroom, she headed back toward the moving staircases unhindered by even a poltergeist.
When Hermione finally walked through the portrait hole into the Gryffindor common room—she’d had to have a long talk with the Fat Lady, who was naturally wary of a known Slytherin student with a password to a Gryffindor private space—she felt like kissing the floor. Even the guarded looks in the eyes of the students there couldn’t spoil the moment for her. The room’s configuration was different than she remembered (but then again, she couldn’t recall a period of time longer than 2 weeks where the furniture stayed in the same place), but the friendly atmosphere and the feelings it invoked in her would have felt the same, twenty years in the future.
She wanted to run up the stairs to the girls’ dormitories and put her things away, but was aware of the impression that would give to her new Housemates—even if her first action would have been to throw her arms around the crimson and gold bed curtains. Instead, she hefted her heavy bag of books and settled herself on a couch in the corner, surrounded by cushions. Even this—her favorite spot—had been vacant, beckoning her to relax and enjoy her pseudo-homecoming.
Hermione was so engrossed in her Arithmancy textbook that she only noticed she had visitors in her corner when James Potter sat down next to her on the couch. She looked up to find herself surrounded by living memories—all four Marauders were standing or sitting in a semi-circle around her. They didn’t look happy.
“You’re in my spot,” said Sirius, gesturing to the edge of the couch she sat on.
“And these were in mine,” James said almost cheerfully, handing her a pile of books.
“I see,” said Hermione, her heart racing. Was it the corner itself that was their designated spot? Or was the very same couch that she, Ron, and Harry claimed for their own somehow linked to his parents as well?
“We’re glad you see,” Lupin said, settling himself down on the floor with his legs outstretched.
“…but the point is, we don’t know you very well, yet—” Peter added.
“…and we’d like to sit down,” Sirius said, finishing the joint sentence.
Hermione marked the place she’d been reading in her textbook and looked around at the boys who’d been speaking. The only one who remained standing was Sirius. She raised an eyebrow and said, evenly, “We?”
Sirius shot a cross look at Peter, who’d been the last to sit down. He turned back to Hermione and crossed his arms.
“Are you a collective?” Hermione held herself nearly rigid, trying to squash the trembling that had her insides tying themselves in knots. She caught Lupin smothering a broad grin under his arm at her comment.
“A…what?” Sirius said before he could stop himself. She had to stop herself from smiling—the thought of explaining The Borg to a group of wizards was priceless. Her lack of response, however, prompted another comment from the still-standing Sirius. “The point is, we usually sit here.”
“I can see that,” she replied, gesturing to the three sitting Marauders. “What is stopping you?”
Hermione could see all three other boys now hiding grins; her decision to go for ‘deliberately obtuse’ seemed to be amusing to more than just herself.
“Maybe she’s suggesting you sit on her lap, Pa—err, Sirius,” James said, covering a little too late for very nearly using his friend’s nickname.
Sirius looked at her, thoughtfully. She could feel herself beginning to blush under his scrutiny. Suddenly she was very aware of the fact that he was the same age as she was, and quite handsome. After a long, tense moment, Sirius shrugged and started toward her as if he’d agreed with James’ suggestion. Hermione stood up so quickly that she nearly knocked him over. The hands that reached out to steady her were strong and calloused, and Hermione realized the only other time he’d touched her was on the back of a hippogryph.
What on earth are you thinking about that for?! she asked herself, angrily.
“Err… sorry,” she said, stepping back away from him—towards the couch, preventing his taking her seat.
“No lap, then,” said James in mock disappointment.
“Well, I haven’t really known him very long,” lied Hermione, playing along.
“We’ve only known you as a Slytherin,” challenged James.
“That’s a very good point, Potter,” Sirius said with a slow smile.
“That was a mistake—I am most definitely not a Slytherin,” Hermione said firmly.
“But is it a mistake, your being a Gryffindor?” Remus piped up from the floor. Hermione shook her head emphatically.
“How would you know, you’ve only been at Hogwarts for two weeks or so,” Peter pointed out.
“Maybe you were just sick of the way Slytherins treated new blood,” Sirius said. Hermione fell right into their trap.
“How could I prove to you that I’m supposed to be in Gryffindor?” she asked in despair. Comprehension dawned a split second later, and she could have kicked herself for being so naïve. She had basically just dared the Marauders to come up with something horrible for her to do—and she’d probably force herself into doing it, too. A furtive glance at the four boys around her confirmed her suspicion—all of them had the delighted look of a child on Christmas morning.
“Oh, dear—you look as though you ought to sit down,” said James in a chokingly gentle voice as he tried to hold back his laughter. He guided her back down to Sirius’ spot—earning him a disgusted look from the boy in question—and once she was seated, he patted her hand in the manner of a fussy grandmother. She looked at him almost helplessly, not sure if she should think he was mental or laugh hysterically at his antics. “I think the best thing for you right now,” continued the black-haired boy, still patting her hand in a way that was getting to be less amusing and more annoying, “would be to sneak into Professor Slughorn’s storeroom.”
The other Marauders didn’t even bother hiding their broad grins at this suggestion, even as Hermione’s mouth dropped open in surprise.
“I don’t need anything—” she started to protest.
“No, not for you, dear,” Potter assured her, finally stopping his maddening hand patting to lean back on the couch with his arms crossed behind his head. “The Veritaserum won’t be for you—“
“—Veritaserum?!” she choked.
“Yes,” Sirius picked up the challenge. “ —For McGonagall.”
“Nice,” James approved.
“For…” Hermione was starting to sound a bit squeaky.
“Just a few drops for her pumpkin juice, tomorrow morning,” Sirius said, as if that made it all right.
“A few drops of—” she was wringing her hands now, thinking about the impossibility of such a task.
“I’m sure she wouldn’t mind having a short chat with you, Hermia,” Lupin added, her almost-name sounding strange from his familiar voice.
“She probably won’t even remember you asking her about Dumbledore,” Peter said, completing the dare.
Hermione looked around at their eager faces, trying desperately to quash the unreal feeling that being in their presence was giving her. First things first, however...
“There’s…” she began, her voice still sounding awfully high-pitched. She started over; “There’s no way I’m going to do that.”
At this, Sirius threw up his hands in mock outrage, clearly about to pronounce her as the most un-Gryffindor person he’d ever met. She spoke again before he had the chance, however.
“That’s entirely too Slytherin a thing to do.”
All four of them just gaped at her; Lupin began to nod, slowly.
“However,” she said, standing up purposefully and walking over to stand directly in front of Sirius Black, “refusing to do it, in the face of rejection, is a very Gryffindor thing to do.” Hermione crossed her arms, waiting for his reaction. His eyes flicked to the empty seat behind her, and without thinking, she reached out to stop him. “Oh, no, you don’t!” Sirius looked completely flabbergasted.
“Woah!” Peter exclaimed.
“Nice try, Sirius,” Remus laughed.
“I think she wins,” James declared.
The warmth of their approval washed over her in waves, and Hermione almost felt like crying. Ever since she’d gotten here, she’d felt off-balance and rejected, exiled from her real friends and cut off from people she’d been sure she’d like. She was right—she did like them…and she refused to allow herself to think about what that might mean to her future sanity.
Now, though, it was time for her own olive branch.
“Accio schoolbooks!” Hermione held out her burlap bag for her things as they flew to her, and then gestured to the seat she’d just cleared off. “Now you can have it,” she said, gracefully settling down on a smaller (but much more comfortable, she found to her delight) armchair next to the couch.
Sirius just stared at her.
“Close your mouth, Mr. Black,” she said, almost reaching out to do it for him.
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