Hermione Granger had never realized just how different it was to grow up without siblings until she started primary school.
To say she was afraid of starting wouldn’t have been putting matters quite into proper terms. And, in fact, she had been very excited to go all summer, ever since her mother had told her where she would be spending her days that autumn. The thought of a room filled with toys and books and, best of all, children her own age was one that greatly appealed to the small five-year-old. She was so excited that, upon leaving the car with her mother and walking up the sidewalk to St. Lucy’s the first Monday in September, she was the one dragging her mother, instead of it being the other way around.
“Hermione, slow down,” Mrs. Granger laughed, fighting to keep hold of her daughter’s hand and prevent the strap of her pocketbook from slipping down her shoulder at the same time. “We won’t get there any faster if you rush, you know.”
Hermione frowned - that defied logic, surely - but obliged, slowing to a graceful walk and pressing herself a bit closer to the hem of her mother’s coat. “Mummy,” she said, tilting her head back to look at the two-story building, which, to her small height, seemed massive. “Will I like school?”
It was the first and only time she allowed her mind to stray into the possibilities of all the bad things that might happen. After all, Stevie Moore lived just down the street, and he’d already been in primary school for a year. And one of his favorite pastimes was scribbling rude words on the sidewalk in charcoal. She wondered for just a moment if there would be any such words scribbled on the walls of her classroom. She rather hoped not.
Mrs. Granger placed her hand on Hermione’s head in a gentle, calming sort of way, and the little girl’s fears dissipated almost at once. “You’ll love it, Hermione,” she said earnestly. “And you already know how to read, and that’s something a lot of boys and girls your age are still learning how to do.”
“Really?” She felt a happy little flush creep across her small cheeks. Her mother nodded. Hermione began to daydream just a little bit, thinking about how she could teach all her classmates to read, and then they would look up to her. She’d be some sort of hero!
Unfortunately, as yet there was no opportunity to speak of. All they had done so far was go around and tell the rest of the class their names, and then the teacher - a very nice-looking woman by the name of Miss Randolph, plump and pleasantly aged, like a kind grandmother - had let them explore the room a bit.
Hermione had immediately gravitated towards a long table in the middle room, set with paper and crayons. Fresh crayons, with the tips still sharpened, and that slight waxy smell still about them! She didn’t know if it would be odd or not to smell the crayons, and so refrained from sticking her nose right in the box, but the temptation was overwhelming.
A gap-toothed girl with long, curly blonde hair came over at that moment and stood at the place across from where Hermione sat, studiously working on a picture of a farm. Pigs were rather hard to draw, and she’d been working on it for some time at that point, a carnation pink crayon clutched tightly in her fist.
“What are you doing?” asked the girl, sticking her forefinger in her mouth and sucking on it a bit. Hermione smiled. She thought the girl was called Nora.
“I’m drawing a pig,” she said. She shoved the box of crayons at Nora, who looked wary of them. “Do you want to draw too?”
“Okay.” Nora removed her finger from her mouth and, with a slight measure of discomfort, Hermione watched as she used the same finger to rummage around in the box before withdrawing a garish green crayon. She bent her head over the paper, long hair obscuring her drawing. Hermione resumed work on her pig.
“Look!” Nora crowed after some minutes, holding up the drawing for Hermione’s inspection. It looked sort of like a pig, too - that is, if a pig were the color of a lime. Hermione frowned.
“You drew it wrong,” she said helpfully.
Nora frowned. “No, I didn’t.”
“Pigs aren’t supposed to be green. They’re pink.” Hermione attempted to pass her the crayon she had been using.
The little blonde girl snatched her paper back quickly, sticking her tongue quickly out at Hermione before scowling deeply. “I can draw pigs any color I want to, thank you very much.”
Already Hermione could see that primary school had certain rules that one must adhere to - it was like a small society all its own, with its own governing body and its own set of rules. She had been trying to help Nora - maybe she hadn’t known that pigs were supposed to be pink? - and all she had done was make the other girl mad.
She felt a bit small now. This was going to take a lot more getting used to than she’d first thought. Hermione scuffed her feet backwards and forwards a bit, dragging them over the squeaky linoleum on the floor. It was the same sort that her parents had in their waiting rooms, where she’d spent a lot of time growing up. It was where she’d learned to read, too. She suddenly wished she had a book in front of her - books were often better company than people, a fact she already knew at five years old.
“Do you like books?” she asked now, trying to make up for lost time. The frown on Nora’s face lessened slightly, but she didn’t say anything.
“Let’s go read. Do you want to go read?” Hermione was rather anxious to get away from the offending box of crayons now, lest Nora start coloring purple cows or blue ducks. She didn’t think she’d be able to handle such incorrect coloring again, but Nora wouldn’t like having to be corrected a second time.
“I can’t read,” said Nora staunchly, her eyes narrowing a bit in wariness. “Miss Randolph said she would read to us later. And besides.” She lowered her voice conspiratorially and leaned toward Hermione, abandoning all ill feelings as she appeared to want to let her in on some deep secret. “That corner by the bookshelves is the boy corner.” She leaned back in her chair knowingly.
Hermione couldn’t see why this was such an issue. “So?” she said bluntly. “There’s lots of room. We can share.”
“No! That corner is for boys.” Nora said this as though it explained everything, but she obviously saw how confused her companion was. “Boys have… They have…” She lowered her voice so much for the last word that Hermione had to lean even closer to hear. “Cooties.”
“Cooties aren’t real,” Hermione said, feeling proud to know something that this girl didn’t know. Nora frowned again.
“Yes, they are. My older sister told me all about them, and she’s a big kid. She’s in second grade.” Nora leaned towards Hermione again. “Do you have an older sister?”
The five-year-old girl shook her head. “But if cooties were real,” she said, “then why doesn’t my daddy have them?”
“Grown-ups don’t have them,” said Nora dismissively, as though this were an obvious explanation. “But you can’t go over to the boys’ corner. You’ll catch cooties and then you’ll get ammonia and then you’ll die.” As though to emphasize this fact, her gray eyes widened, and she popped her forefinger back in her mouth.
“That’s dumb,” said Hermione. “Watch. I’ll go over there right now.” And to prove her point, she pushed back her chair, glancing instinctively over to the corner where Miss Randolph sat. If for some reason that corner was just for boys, and was full of cooties, she didn’t want to get in trouble for breaking rules. But the teacher was engaged in helping two girls clean up a spilled bin of wooden blocks, and didn’t seem to notice.
The corner in question was surrounded on three sides by bookshelves, about half the size of the walls, and absolutely crammed with well-loved picture books, their pages torn and bent. There were a few boys sitting in the space among them, although none of them seemed to be reading. This seemed rather pointless to Hermione - why would you bother sitting by so many books if you weren’t going to bother reading them? - but that was not the question she had come to ask.
The boy farthest from her looked up from his plastic train - she remembered he’d introduced himself as Tommy. “What do you want?” he said rudely, jutting his chin out a bit in an effort to make himself appear tough. Hermione frowned.
“You can’t come in our corner,” said Alfie, a little blonde boy next to Tommy. “You’re a girl.”
Hermione sat herself down on a vacant cushion by the window and tilted her head to the side, pretending to study the books there. Tommy poked her shoulder with the train, perhaps thinking she hadn’t heard his friend.
“I’m trying to read,” she said in a withering sort of voice, the best she could manage, as she hadn’t been the one to walk over and sit down in the first place. “You’re just playing with trains.” Tommy scowled.
“Girls have germs,” informed the third boy helpfully, although a bit ironically, as he was picking his nose at the moment of speaking. “You’re germy.” He withdrew his finger from his nose, inspected what was on the end of it, and then deliberately wiped it on the plush cow behind him. Hermione was suddenly glad that she didn’t have brothers.
“I am not,” Hermione said determinedly, with a little frown. She abandoned her search of the bookshelf and folded her legs beneath her, crossing her arms over her chest. “That’s rude.” Tommy ran his train into her again, hoping it might persuade her to leave.
For years, Hermione had no explanation for what happened next. And strictly speaking, it wasn’t a huge deal. She could have forgotten all about it had she not believed herself to be firmly innocent for it having happened in the first place. But quite suddenly, and with no warning whatsoever, three books from the bookshelf by Hermione’s head flew into the air, smacking each boy in the face in turn, and returning quite neatly to where they had come from.
The group of them all sat there for a moment, quite dumbstruck, their small mouths hanging open as though they couldn’t believe what had just happened. Then, as one, they stood up from their little patch of carpet, yelling various things and tottering over to Miss Randolph, still engaged in picking up the blocks.
Hermione stood up too, her cheeks feeling very hot. She didn’t know how those books had flown off the shelves, and she knew that her entire primary school career was about to be ended before it had begun. And there were so many things she had been anxious to learn! She’d never learned multiplication, or how to climb the rope in gym, or how to write in cursive…
“Slow down, Tommy,” Miss Randolph was saying from across the room, her hand on his head. “What is it that you need to tell me?”
“That girl” - he pointed across the room to where Hermione was still standing on the carpet, defiant - “threw books at us, and she has cooties and now we need to go to the nurse and get a vacation.”
A crease formed in the instructor’s already-wrinkled forehead. “A vaccination?”
“Yeah!” Tommy nodded his head up and down in fervent eagerness. Hermione ran over to them to make sure the facts could get messed up before she could save herself.
“I didn’t throw anything!” she said hotly, coming to a stop and planting her fists on her hips. “They were telling me to go away because I had germs, even though I washed my hands today, and I don’t want to be kicked out of school.” She took a deep breath and caught the eye of Alfie, the blonde boy, who was glaring at her fiercely.
“I’m sure I don’t know what happened,” said Miss Randolph at last, lowering herself a bit to be on eye level with the rest of them, “but no one’s getting kicked out of school. And there are certainly no such things as cooties.” She said this last with a rather significant look at Tommy, who sucked in his lower lip.
“So I won’t have to leave school?” An intense wave of relief washed over her, and she beamed.
“I will have to ask each of you to sit in the corner for ten minutes, to think about what you have done,” the teacher continued on gently, but for Hermione, this was nothing compared to the prospect of not getting to learn multiplication.
She directed them to four chairs, each set up in various corners of the room, and Hermione crossed to hers, if not happily, than with no ill feeling. She would get to continue on in school, and what was more, the cooties issue had been satisfactorily solved. For the rest of that school year, she generated a modicum of respect in the classroom simply for being the one to put the matter at rest - and she did eventually learn to hold her tongue where coloring was concerned.
For six years, however, there was a nagging feeling in her mind about those books. Just how had they flown off the shelves?
A/N: You know, I think -- and I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not -- than Hermione and I had rather similar kindergarten experiences, looking back on how I wrote this. I was a rather bossy little child, going so far as to inform my teacher when she skipped pages of books (as I'd read most of the ones she had), and telling off a boy for sliding around on his carpet square.
Then again, that boy dripped melted crayon wax on my finger while it was still searing hot, so he probably deserved it.
Thank you guys so much for all the reads and reviews -- you blow me away. It's just as simple as that. Don't forget to review, as always, and thanks again!