A/N: Hello everyone! I know I should be focusing on finishing the Padma story. And I am. I just needed a little break from it.
And since I've mostly written about the Ravenclaws for a while, I thought I'd give the Hufflepuffs a story too, since I have been hinting a few things about them and their relationships in my other stories. Here, they're not just the background figures, but they take it in turns to have their own story told. So, this is basically glimpses of the Hogwarts life of the Hufflepuffs who were in Harry's (and Padma's) year. From beginning to end. We start with the first two years.
Chapter I. The Beginning.
"Hello. I'm Ernie Macmillan." The stout boy extended his hand, grinning at her. "Would it be all right if I sat down here?"
"S-sure," Hannah whispered, resenting how badly her voice shook.
"You're a first year too, right?" he asked, smiling knowingly. She merely nodded. Opening her mouth seemed too risky. "You gonna tell me your name, or am I gonna have to resort to guessing?"
She felt the blush creeping all the way down to her neck. He'd introduced himself. Obviously, he'd expected her to do the same.
"It's all right," he chuckled, not unkindly. She still wanted to sink through the compartment floor, down through the rail and only possibly come out when she reached Australia or China or wherever the other end of the world was.
"Hannah," she mumbled. "Hannah Abbott."
"Well then, Hannah. It's nice to meet you."
The rest of the journey, he never asked her to open her mouth again. He chatted on about his parents, his little brother who was insanely jealous of him for leaving ("Dave actually hid himself in my trunk last night, thinking I wouldn't notice. I didn't, 'til I heard the snoring."), his life, his plans, his thoughts on the Houses ("My Dad always says it won't matter where I go, but personally, I'd prefer Hufflepuff, where he went, or possibly Ravenclaw, like Mum."). With anything, really, he filled the silence in her head that was screaming that she wasn't ready for this, that she just wanted her mummy and daddy and her own bed and familiar smells.
She would be forever grateful.
"Hi. I'm Hannah." The tiny girl with blonde pigtales who she was apparently going to share a room with for the following seven years was smiling shyly at her. She recognized the girl from dinner. There, she'd been sitting with the overly social boy who'd been talking to everyone. Susan had seen the two of them talking even before the Sorting, and so had resented the girl, for actually ending up in the same House as her friend.
Unlike Susan, who'd sat with Lisa Turpin on the train, finding that the two had lots in common. Until Lisa didn't follow her to the Hufflepuff table, but gave her a shrug before she was dragged into conversation by a brunette Ravenclaw. Only Susan, it seemed, had been left with no one.
"I'm Susan. You're friends with Ernie, right?" She wasn't sure if the resentment leaked out of her voice. If it did, Hannah didn't seem to have noticed.
"I guess. I only met him on the train. He's nice, though."
Susan only nodded. What was she supposed to say to that?
"You had a friend, didn't you? A Ravenclaw?"
Could this girl read her mind, or what? Susan wasn't sure whether to be slightly alarmed or annoyed by this perception. In the end, she just shrugged. "We only talked a bit on the train. But she seemed all right."
"I'm sorry you didn't end up with her, then." Hannah's eyes fell to the floor. Susan suddenly felt bad. She hadn't meant for Hannah to know that she wished she was sharing a dormitory with Lisa instead of her.
In that moment, the third occupant of their dormitory emerged from the bathroom. "Shower's free if you want it," she announced. "I'm Megan, by the way." She flashed them a large grin. "I'm going downstairs for a bit. Wayne just wanted to clean up a bit too. You girls going to bed?"
"Soon, I think," Hannah said, casting a hesitant look at Susan.
"I'll be quiet then, when I get back. Goodnight!"
"Is it just me or is she a bit – much? I mean, we've just got here. We're supposed to be terrified and homesick." Susan found her mouth working without her consent.
Hannah gave a giggle, then her face sobered, slowly. "Are you? Scared, I mean?"
Susan hesitated. Her pride wanted to say no, but the way Hannah was biting her lip made her feel she had nothing to be ashamed of. "Totally. You?"
Hannah nodded vigorously.
When Megan got up again, on her tiptoes, hours later, Hannah and Susan were still wide awake, giggling and trying to tell each other everything about everything all at once.
A Slytherin boy whose name Justin didn't know was sneering at him maliciously as he'd overheard him proudly telling Ernie he'd been down for Eton before getting his Hogwarts letter. The Slytherin was older, and a lot bigger than both of them.
Justin had no idea what this was about, but for some reason that Slytherin was approaching their library table, still his eyes fixed at Justin.
As the Slytherin bent down and leaned in close to him, Justin actually stopped breathing. Even if he didn't know much about the wizarding world, Ernie had told him to watch out for Slytherins.
"I wouldn't be bragging about that if I were you, you disgusting little Mudblood."
After that hiss, the older boy left him, and Justin turned perplexedly to Ernie for an explanation.
"It's all right. He can't do nothing while we're in here. Madam Pince would come running." Still, Ernie looked quite pale for someone who had never been worried.
"But – what did he want with me? What's a Mud-?"
"Offensive word for someone like you. Muggleborns," Ernie added as Justin still frowned at him.
"Does that mean – I mean, are we bad at magic, 'cause we haven't grown up with it, or what did he mean by the blood thing?"
Ernie sighed. "Some wizards, mostly Slytherins, think that the so-called Purebloods are better than Muggleborns. But my parents say that's all bullshit. I mean, my Uncle Perry was Pureblood, and he still was the lousiest at every subject except Care of Magical Creatures. Just – keep out of the way of the Slytherins, okay?"
"But, are you sure they don't, y'know, have a point? I mean, I was one of the worst in Charms today..."
"While Granger was the best. You know she's Muggleborn too, right? Point is, don't listen to those guys. All right?"
From that day, the two of them were best friends.
Megan hadn't thought it'd hurt like this, to see the friendship blossoming between the two other girls in the dormitory. She hadn't thought she'd care. She had Wayne, didn't she? She'd always had him, ever since they were born, really. And it had been such an enormous relief when they were sorted into the same house, just like their mothers had been. So she hadn't tried. She'd just been glad she wasn't like everyone else, terrified and alone. She had her best friend to experience it all with. And she loved that. But still, it kind of hurt that soon, the four other Hufflepuffs were forming a group and she and Wayne were seemingly never even considered to join. Just because they had each other didn't mean they couldn't be part of the group too.
They'd been best friends ever since the start of first year when Ernie had started feeling protective of the smaller boy, taking it upon himself to guide him through Hogwarts and the wizarding world. And Ernie had been concerned, of course, when the whole Chamber of Secrets business started, knowing that Justin was in the danger zone. Especially when Potter egged that snake on him.
Yet, he hadn't really thought that something would actually happen, not to Justin. After all, he'd even warned him to stay in their common room. So when the gathered people started mumbling about another attack, he felt confident it couldn't be Justin. When it was, when he caught a glimpse of him, lying as if dead on the floor, his eyes empty, unseeing – Ernie's first reflex was to throw himself on top of his friend, shaking him, forcing him to wake up. He pushed that back, and what came out were words directed at Potter, blaming him, shrieking that he was caught in the act. At that moment, though, it didn't really matter if it was Potter or not. Justin was petrified. Justin could have been killed.
He couldn't sleep that night, so he sneaked down in the common room. For a long time, he simply stared into the fire. Then, just as all the fear and shock started to catch up with him and he hid his face in his hands, someone else was there. He heard the footsteps, froze, but couldn't look up. Not now. So he stayed as he was, as if he too was petrified, until familiar, soft hands were on his shoulders and suddenly, his face was hidden in Hannah's chest, as she whispered promises that she wouldn't tell anyone. (She was the only one except his mother he'd ever allow to see him this way, but somehow, with her, he wasn't ashamed.)
It had been awful, these months, to be three instead of four. Susan had seen the toll it had taken on Ernie, being without his best friend. She had been surprised at the effect Justin's absence had had on herself. She'd never thought he was that important to their group. He wasn't the leader, like Ernie, nor her best friend, like Hannah. But when he'd been petrified, she'd noticed the little things she never had before. Like how the two of them could share a look when Ernie went overly obvious in his fancying of Hannah, and she still failed to recognize it for what it was. Like how he actually always listened to her, not just to Hannah.
When he came running towards them during the celebration feast, Ernie was up first, enveloping him in a bear hug. Next was Hannah, embracing him tightly. Susan found her face heating up as she stood there, simply beaming at him, not sure what to do. After only a couple of seconds though, he had taken matters into his own hands and lifted her off her feet.
"I'm glad you're back," she whispered in his ear.
"So am I," he grinned. "Not that I knew how long I was gone for. Blimey, I can't believe I've missed six months. You'll have to fill me in on everything, Suse." He gave a nod towards the other two and winked. "I just gotta go apologize to Potter. Six months overdue. But I'll be back."
She couldn't say anything, and just found herself gazing after him, feeling very warm in a way she never had before.
A/N: So, what did you think? Obviously, there'll be more action as they get older, already in the next chapter, with the Yule Ball that stirs everything up. This was merely the introduction.