Hermione stood frozen at the Great Hall entrance, not quite sure what to think. What was she supposed to do? It seemed from the hubbub of the crowd around her that everyone had numerous things to say, but she remained speechless. And so did Peter. His face betrayed an imperceptible expression, although Hermione made no attempt to discern it.
He took a reluctant step towards her, but she dashed away before he advanced any further. The noise from the Great Hall faded away as she ran, her mind clouded by overwhelming emotions, stuck in a perpetual state of confusion. Usually, she could easily make sense of things. Her loneliness stemmed from her independent personality. Her magical occurrences meant she was a witch. She read books; she did well in class. She practiced her spells; she did well in class. Now, it was as if her mind was being pulled thin, searching for ways to rationalise this sudden revelation that shook her worldview.
Peter, her friend, the one and only person she had begun to trust and warm up to since her parents, wasn't who she thought he was.
Her legs burned from the strain she was exerting, but her mind remained elsewhere. Specifically, on the image of the dry bloodied socks that couldn't seem to leave her mind. What in the world happened with that? How did it happen? Why would that ever happen? To a teacher, too!
Peter's face during his little speech did nothing to tone down her fright. It was so full of malice and spite—just pure evil. They were expressions she would never have expected from the face of the boy she'd spent much of the past three days with. Three days that now seemed to stretch on forever. Her heart broke at the thought that he was able to keep such a thing from her. And for that long. She wanted to go back home. Back to her parents. It seemed like they were the only ones she could really trust.
"Alright, I'm sorry," he had said earlier. "It's just—you'll need to learn some Arithmancy before you'll be able to solve this problem. Really, it's nothing to be upset about. You just came into the wizarding world; you can't honestly expect to know everything about it, do you?"
And he was absolutely right, which frustrated her most of all.
She had spent all of her lonely life trying to get ahead of everyone else because she felt she had no other choice. No one wanted to be friends with her, and when some did approach her, it was only to ask for her help in their homework.
Of course, she helped willingly; taking great pleasure from the act, in fact. Knowing that she was better at school than her peers became her sole source of confidence within her low self-esteem. It was the reason why she always strived to do her best academically, and why she had accepted the fact people only used her for their own benefit; no one besides her parents would ever care about her.
For her whole life, being knowledgeable was her way of interacting with people. She helped others her age, and she impressed those older than her. She was shunned by some for being too clever, but at least she was praised by others all the same.
That was what she had planned to do in Hogwarts, as well. She was made aware, then, that many like her were also coming from non-magical families, meaning she wasn't too far behind.
Even so, she was still concerned by the fact that there were those born around magic who had eleven years of experience over her. Thus, she read, as she always did. She read and reread her first-year books all summer, trying to catch up to those people.
It was a relief to learn that no children, pureblood or muggle-born, were allowed to practice magic until they reached Hogwarts. Seeing them struggle in class raised her spirits so high that she managed to tone down her bossy attitude a tad that day. She had proven to herself, yet again, that she could do better than everyone else in class, even the famous Harry Potter.
She was let down when she saw the reactions of her classmates, however. Rather than receiving the usual praise she had come to expect, everyone slighted her for doing better. It was as if she insulted them whenever her hard work paid off.
It was only Peter who appreciated her, which was fair enough. She found she was grateful enough for his company. He became her regular class partner since then. Just like everyone else, he struggled to perform magic, but he was more than willing to accept her help. He didn't care that she was a muggle-born who could perform magic better than him, he just wanted to learn and improve. Like her.
Granted, they didn't gain much progress since they started working on his magic, with him still having to put way more effort and focus into his spells to make them work, but there was progress nonetheless.
In no time, (and for the very first time in her life), Hermione had someone she could call a friend. He had the same drive to learn as her, she found his affinity for books endearing, and the way he tackled problems was admirable. He definitely exceeded her in terms of theoreticals. His understanding of magic ran deeper than she ever thought to consider from reading the books.
Just why did he have to turn out to be so…evil?
"Hermione!" Peter called behind her as she entered the Fat Lady.
"Leave me alone!" She didn't bother to look at him and walked faster.
"Please, talk to me!" Peter's pleading voice felt charged.
She whirled around sharply, and Peter stopped in his stride. "Was that true? Were you really the one who sent Professor Snape to the Hospital Wing?"
"W—" Peter paused, then continued walking towards her. "Yeah, but it wasn't like what you think it was."
Hermione spun back on her heels and stormed for the trapdoor, heading to their secret chamber. Well, only her chamber, now, she thought to herself. She struggled to lift it up since there was no handle to hold on to; usually, it was Peter who opened it for her. By the time she finally did, Peter had caught up.
"I mean, I did knock him out." Peter followed her in, forgetting to close the trapdoor behind him. "But I never meant to hurt him. It-it happened so fast I didn't even have the time to think!"
"So he attacked you first, then," she inquired, stomping her way to her desk.
"No," Peter hesitated. "He was talking to me—about the potions I mentioned in class—and he went—this, er—" Peter took a deep breath. "My senses freaked out and made me react rashly. I didn't even know I punched him until he was unconscious on the floor."
"You punched him?" Hermione sputtered indignantly, eyes staring wide at him. "Because he asked about your potions experiment?"
Peter looked pale. "It wasn't—"
"Why would you keep something like that from me?" she shrieked, feeling her face burn with fire. "You attacked a teacher! You could seriously get expelled for that!"
"It doesn't matter!" Hermione flailed her arms out hysterically. "You still shouldn't have done it for any reason! Especially not for some potions experiment!"
Peter stood still with his arms awkwardly pressed close to his body. His mouth sputtered silently, but no words came out.
She turned her head sharply and grabbed her parchments on Peter's stupid potion equations, crumpling them in her fist. "This," she said, throwing it at him, "does not belong here. And neither do you!"
A pained expression coloured his cheeks, his eyebrows furrowed pleadingly. "Hermione…"
"I can't believe I've been wasting my time on that cursed equation," she wailed. "What was I even supposed to do with it?"
Peter remained motionless, aghast at her sudden fury. Thinking back, later on, even she would probably be surprised by her own rage. All she could see was red.
She poked a sharp finger at his chest, her eyes starting to blur from the tears welling up in her eyes. "Who are you?"
"Hermione…" Peter muttered more to himself, stepping back. His face was scrunched with guilt and regret. "Please…"
She wanted to ask him why; to let him explain himself. But seeing him standing there, looking so innocent and imploring, it only made her convulse in agitation even more. She expected him to either be shouting back or to have walked out by now—but his patience compelled her to lose her composure.
"Just get out!" she screamed, grabbing the quill and inkpot on the table behind her and throwing them at him. He shielded himself with his arm and reared his head back, letting the items bounce harmlessly against him.
"Hermione…" his voice cracked even though it was barely a whisper in comparison to hers.
Now more furious than ever, she grabbed the whole table and tried to lift it. It was then that Peter seized her by the arms and pulled her away from it. Perhaps because of the current circumstances, or because this seemed to be the first time he'd touched her, and she suddenly felt trapped and violated.
"Let me go!" she screamed as she tried to struggle out of his grip. His arms felt like steel rails, making her feel frail and powerless all of a sudden.
He let go just as quickly as he grabbed her, though, and stood a good distance in front of her. He wiped his hands against his robes right away and looked completely lost with his face burning red.
But she was the one crying, sniffling as she wiped her tears with her own robe sleeves. She felt so conflicted that she couldn't bring herself to trust this person in front of her any longer.
Footsteps appeared onto the creaking ladder that led from the common room.
"Mr Malfoy," Professor McGonagall's voice sounded from the trapdoor entrance. Hermione stiffened, looking like a deer in headlights at being caught in this secret chamber with the school's new delinquent boy. "If you would follow me to the headmaster's office."
Hermione slowly looked to where the strict professor stood. Her face showed a hint of sympathy directed at her, but she held her stern look. "We will talk later, Miss Granger."
Peter had no choice but to follow McGonagall. Slowly, he trudged behind her as they walked towards that Fat Lady.
He didn't even care that she found out about his and Hermione's secret chamber. He was still confused at everything that just happened, and he doubted he would be welcome in it anytime soon. With a final look over his shoulder, Peter saw Hermione looking at him, hurt still evident despite their growing distance.
Her face made his heart sink to his stomach. He had never caused anyone so much pain before, and it wounded him to know she was right to be angry at him. Tears began to blur his sight, but he could still make out her figure, framed by the trapdoor's threshold, which soon disappeared to the floor as he exited the common room.
He continued following McGonagall despite the occasional glances to his sides for a possible exit. He just wanted to disappear: to be swallowed by the old stones that made up the castle, or to be abducted by some spirit looking to punish his actions.
Nevertheless, they walked in silence. This made him let out a quiet snort, realising how similar this was to his first morning at Hogwarts. The prospect of this becoming a frequent routine for him hit him like a train, and his humour was immediately replaced with a frown.
Please don't let that be the case. He was starting to hate this place more than he hated Harry Potter, and that was saying a lot since he had to physical shake his head to dismiss the thought of him again. He was like a parasite to Peter's mind, always getting him riled up as if an insect had crawled under his shirt. His red-headed friend was quickly rising up his hate list, too. Just thinking about their smug faces in the Great Hall made his eye twitch.
He was so deep in his thoughts that he didn't even realise that they had entered Dumbledore's office and were now standing in front of his desk. It was such a familiar setting at this point that he didn't even notice the silver instruments that decorated the circular room. With a prim nod to Dumbledore, McGonagall left the two of them in the room.
"We meet again, Peter," Dumbledore said brightly.
Peter only grunted in response, sitting down on the couch, just as he did the first time he went here. It felt just like yesterday, except this meeting felt heavier and seemed more serious rather than casual for some reason. He surmised it was likely because Dumbledore stayed behind his desk this time.
It was only at this point when Peter realised the reason he was summoned here for. His heart started to beat just a little faster and he prepared to defend himself in case Dumbledore decided it wasn't worth the trouble to keep him alive anymore. He began fidgeting with his fingers, wondering whether Dumbledore could read minds just like Snape.
He must've heard Lucius mention something about Legitimacy or the likes, but he hadn't been paying attention to be sure. He'd been preoccupied with a book on cosmic stones at the time. In retrospect, he thought that maybe he should have listened then. He decided to do so from now on—that is, if he somehow survived this.
No doubt, Snape already revealed to Dumbledore that he was the one who knocked him out. Still, he hoped that by not being another witness against himself, it would at least provide him with some immunity or whatever. Besides, what would he do if Dumbledore found out that he was supposedly You-Know-Who's heir? Or that his father had ordered him to literally become Harry Potter's enemy?
He couldn't possibly duel Dumbledore—he struggled even with just levitating a feather. Maybe, he could make a run for it; the headmaster's old age was bound to have taken a toll on his speed and agility. The desk could act as a buffer between them, so long as he was out before the old man had the time to react.
Keeping his eyes low, Peter prepared to lift his feet against the desk to launch himself backwards. Before he was able to do so, however, Dumbledore spoke softly.
"I'm sure you're aware of the reason why I called you here today."
Peter nodded curtly, continuing to look at the desk where Dumbledore's hands calmly rested on top of each other. There were no sweets to be seen, Peter noted with only the slightest curiosity. It turned out that he liked them.
"I defended myself from Professor Snape because he was assaulting my mind for memories," he said flatly.
Dumbledore nodded and sat back on his chair, seemingly more relaxed now. "Exactly."
Peter's eyebrows quirked. "What?"
"As you've probably noticed, Snape hates all Gryffindor students," Dumbledore said lightly, "so let's just consider it a minor setback for being in the best house in Hogwarts."
"Best house…" Peter chuckled quietly. "Yeah, right."
"Uh, no, sir. You're right." Peter lifted his fingers to his mouth, about to bite his nails as he used to do a few years back, but he willed them back down and shifted on his seat to sit up straighter. "Gryffindor is the best. Hermione thinks so, too." Even though she clearly should be a Ravenclaw.
"I don't think you believe that."
He slouched back down and mumbled: "You said I should."
"I said the Hat was right in Gryffindor being the best house for you," Dumbledore said. "But it didn't consider if it would be best for everyone else."
Peter's face turned quizzical, and he instinctively looked at Dumbledore in the eyes. He immediately realised his mistake and snapped his head back down, but it turned out that he needed not to worry. Dumbledore's eyes were twinkling.
"So, you're moving me?" He looked up at Dumbledore again, eyebrows raised so high he could feel his forehead wrinkle.
"That's the plan of action we've settled into."
"What about Snape—Professor Snape?" Peter asked with furrowed eyebrows.
"He's recovering," Dumbledore said simply. "And he agreed to forget about everything that happened on the first day of class, so long as you are no longer a Gryffindor."
Peter couldn't help but smile triumphantly. "O-okay. Where do I go?"
"Ravenclaw, of course."
Peter grinned as he slowly shook his head in disbelief. He and Hermione would do great in Ravenclaw. Then he realised she wouldn't be included in the transfer, and she probably wouldn't want to be transferred with him at this moment, anyway.
As Professor Flitwick, his new Head of House, led him to the Ravenclaw Tower, Peter wondered if the common room also had a secret chamber underneath it. He decided he would have to check once everyone was asleep.
It was when he entered his new dorm room and Flitwick left him did his senses start to tingle, hard.
Needless to say, they didn't explore the castle that lunch period, or day, or ever, Hermione thought to herself. Peter never came back to the secret chamber nor the common room after Professor McGonagall took him.
When Professor McGonagall returned, she spoke to Hermione about the chamber, wholly disappointed at her for not being informed about it sooner. The conversation ended with Hermione in tears and McGonagall awkwardly trying to calm her down.
Then, as if the day couldn't get any worse, Neville just had to fall from his broom in their first Flying lesson, leaving the students without a supervisor for the remaining period.
"Look what we got here," Draco said as he darted forward to snatch something out of the grass. "It's that stupid Remembrall Longbottom's gran sent him."
He raised it above his head and squinted at it with one eye against the sunlight.
"Give that here, Malfoy," Harry walked up to him, Ron behind.
"Wow." Draco scowled nastily. "Back to being self-righteous, aren't you? You finally succeeded in setting my brother up so you've returned to your holier than thou, hero of the world, golden boy complex—well, guess what, Potter, you're nothing but a proper dickhead."
Harry scoffed. "We didn't set him up."
"Harry's right! He told everyone himself!" Ron said derisively. "And you should watch your language, Malfoy. It's unbecoming of a pureblood. You're starting to sound like a—"
"Was I talking to you, Weasel?"
"You just are, you twat."
Hermione marvelled at the spectacle, massaging her headache as Draco and other Slytherins faced off against Harry and Ron. How their vocabulary became so colourful all of a sudden, she didn't want to know. She had wished that Peter was here to help her stop the fight, but she soon deduced that he would sooner be the one to instigate it than back her up.
"Just give the ball back," Harry ordered.
"Nah." Draco stepped back, idly tossing the Remembrall in one hand. "I think I'll leave it somewhere for Longbottom to find." He smirked and looked to the woods behind him. "How about—up a tree?"
"Give it here!" Harry yelled, but Draco had already sped off to the sky on his broomstick.
"You'll have to stop me, Potter!"
Harry grabbed the broom and zoomed after Draco. Hermione only groaned as the other students began to cheer or boo either of the two boys. They sharply turned to face each other, seemingly shouting another round of insults although their voices were lost in the wind before reaching the crowd.
Suddenly, Harry looked livid and shot straight towards Draco, who dodged him by a hair's breadth by jumping off his own broom and hanging on to it with one hand. Some of the crowd around Hermione whooped at the show the two were displaying, some gasped in fear. Amidst the struggle, Draco dropped the Remembrall with his other hand.
Harry immediately dove for it, and Draco promptly followed after righting himself back on his broom. Harry caught the Remembrall mid-air and pulled his broom up to stop the fall. The rest of the Gryffindors whooped and clapped at his stunt, though Hermione herself almost had a heart attack.
Said heart attack threatened her life, even more, when she shifted her gaze up to see that Draco was still falling fast, having positioned himself improperly before diving. He was holding on to the broom for his dear life, but he didn't seem to have control of it. All Slytherins called for his name but were too petrified to do anything about it. She definitely couldn't have done anything either; all she could do was watch in horror as the skinny pale boy sped to his inevitable death that was the grassy Quidditch Pitch field.
Out of nowhere, Hermione heard something zip past over the students' heads, making the dragged wind blow their hair to the front of their faces and their robes billow forward. The next thing she knew, Draco disappeared from the sky and everyone had gone silent.
The students looked at each other, confused, dismayed. Then, just as unexpectedly as the zip that went past them, Peter and Draco returned swiftly to the crowd, both on their own brooms. Draco had a fierce smirk on his face while Peter was glowering.
The urge to call for his name and demand an answer for where he'd been collided with the rational part of her wanting to leave.
Instead, Peter flew straight to Harry.
"You almost killed my brother!" Peter came up to Harry's face.
Harry scowled and leaned forward as well, trying to assert dominance. They both stood on their tippy toes.
"He bloody didn't," Ron spat behind Harry. "That git was trying to kill himself, hanging off the broom with one hand like that."
"For Merlin's sake, Weasley, shut your mouth," Peter said. "No one ever talks to you but you keep vomiting stupid words from that ugly mouth of y—"
"Step away, Malfoy." Harry pulled out his wand and pointed it at Peter, who blinked looking at it. "Both of you, but especially you."
Peter padded around his robes, presumably looking for his wand, but he found nothing.
"Look who forgot he's a wizard, now." Harry pressed it against Peter's chest. "Why the long face, Malfoy? Are you scared now that you realised you're bollocks at magic?"
Peter sneered and slapped Harry's wand away from him, causing it to fly several feet to the grass beside them. Harry yelped and recoiled his hands back, shaking it. Several wands, both from the Gryffindors and the Slytherins, suddenly drew out, all pointed at each other.
"Peter, stop!" Hermione shouted.
"What, you're going to send us to the Hospital Wing like you did to Professor Snape?" Ron said to Peter.
Lavender Brown giggled from the side. "Are you going to choke us with your socks, too?" she called, though she shrunk behind the crowd when Peter glared at her.
"Harry Potter! Misters Malfoy!"
Never had Hermione been so glad to hear Professor McGonagall's shrill voice right after being at the receiving end of her scolding. Her heart practically leapt to her throat.
"Everyone, put down your wands!" she said, her own held firmly in her hands. "Back to the castle, all of you! You too, Mr Weasley!"
She turned to the three boys she named and began reprimanding them.
There were little moments in life that stuck with Hermione since she was a young child. She vividly remembered being carried in her father's arms as a baby. He sang her Wiegenlied while she slowly fell asleep. She remembered playing with the car's roll down window and her dad telling her to stop from the driver's seat. She remembered the first time she fell on a bike and her mother came running to her, fussing about all her scratches. She remembered sitting on a swing alone, reading a new book as she ignored all the other children laughing and running around the playground. These were the memories that seemed to be etched in her mind forever.
Now, walking back to the castle with the rest of the students, she turned her head back, catching Peter's face looking surprised to see her just then, Hermione knew that she was going to remember this moment for a long time.
Another image from her past to remember.
A/N: Again, thanks to PenguinofProse for betaing this chapter!