Chapter Forty-four: A Bold Beginning
“Destiny is a name often given in retrospect to choices that had dramatic consequences.”
–J. K. Rowling
Chapter Forty-four: A Bold Beginning
Peter was the first to wake up that Saturday. Deciding that he wanted to prolong his privacy for a few hours, he dressed quickly and quietly and exited the Gryffindor tower before the hour turned six. The air outside felt brisk and chilly, but his light coat and house scarf withstood the stiff wind admirably, and he welcomed the subtle change in temperature. He liked change; the steady movement of time took him farther away from things that he disliked, and toward what he viewed as a new beginning.
It wasn’t that he was ungrateful for his education, but Peter didn’t like the system of house separation at Hogwarts. He knew he was too shy at times—though the Hat’s suggestion of Gryffindor had been incredibly validating in that regard. The thing that bothered him the most about it was the idea of having pre-made enemies, simply based on being placed in one rather than another of the four houses. He’d expected Hufflepuff, not that he thought of himself as much of a social person, of course, but the students’ talk on the train had just about convinced him that someone like him (who hadn’t shown much in the way of academic promise or bravery by the tender age of eleven) would certainly be shuffled off to Helga’s house. He’d learned that this conclusion about the badgers was misguided, as had most of his fellow students.
Ironically, even though he’d made such strong and lasting friendships in his first few years, he’d begun to wish he had ended up in Hufflepuff. Perhaps then he wouldn’t feel such a pressure to prove that he had courage, possessing of a lion’s heart—of course, this had only reminded him that Gryffindor really was the place for him. Most of the ‘Puffs he knew didn’t feel that sort of requirement; it seemed more of a Gryffindor trait.
Far from being comforting, this train of thought caused him to frown in frustration as he picked his way across the grass in a rambling path around the campus. Not for the first time, Wormtail wondered if he was imagining some kind of personal inferiority or if his friends truly thought less of him than they did of each other. Their joking attitude of ‘tough love’ was not only pervasive, but also unpredictable. It was a stressful sort of existence, though rewarding in its own way. No matter how down on himself he got, the thought of his accomplishment in fifth year invariably cheered him.
Being a rat felt at once terrifyingly vulnerable and powerfully safe. Sirius had sat him down at the beginning of the process, expressing genuine concern at his choice—but Peter had never wavered. What Sirius and James didn’t understand was the security of being common; they were so anxious to stand out and be noticed that the thought of choosing a form that was slightly distasteful as well as abundant in number had clearly been mystifying to them. A stag could never blend into the background, after all—but nor could it be preyed on by as many creatures as rats were, something he’d foolishly proven earlier that week.
His leg had mostly healed, though it had been incredibly itchy as it did so. Wounds as translated between physical forms were apparently more painful and much more delicate during the healing process than injuries sustained as a human. What ached more than his leg or even his wounded pride, however, was the discovery he’d made the night of the full moon—Sirius had apparently engaged in some sort of revenge on Mrs. Norris, but he hadn’t felt it necessary to let any of the rest of them know about it. Having one’s friend take care of your enemies for you felt great, to be sure, but Peter was hurt that Sirius hadn’t deemed it important enough to let him in on the joke. It made the gesture feel less like a friend defending another friend, and more like an excuse for mischief. When he was being honest with himself about it, he felt a little used; not even the sight of a rattled Severus Snape approaching the Great Hall only to turn away after spying Mrs. Norris at the doorway had made him feel better.
The obvious cat hair on the other boy’s robes had prompted a stifled laugh, however. Picturing how it had gotten there—now that had been worth a sackful of galleons.
He figured he should probably talk to Sirius about the whole thing if it were bugging him this much, but at the same time, he knew he wouldn’t. He never did. It was just the routine, the casualty of friendship. Wormtail took a brief moment to wonder why it didn’t feel odd to him that he felt safer running around beneath the much larger bodies of his fellow animagi, safer than he felt at the thought of asking any of them for help with Transfiguration homework.
Peter never told his friends how much more clever he felt as a rat. He was certain that none of them were capable of understanding, having chosen forms that reflected their willingness to fight—or not having chosen at all. Yet, could a dog open a latch? It was possible, he supposed—with a lot of work and probable damage to its muzzle. Could a stag hide in an open field? Not likely, Peter thought. He tended to console himself with these sorts of musings, and lately, with the odd statement that Lucius had made to him before the Pureblood had left the library—‘Slytherins aren’t the only ones with ambition.’ He hadn’t quite worked out yet what the benefit for Malfoy would be to say something like that to a Gryffindor. The thing was, he did want to amount to something. He wanted to be remembered…and not just for being an illegal animagus.
Thinking about Lucius brought his mind to thoughts of another Slytherin seventh year. For one shining moment, he wondered if Malfoy’s words had been prompted by another student, if maybe she…but no. Lucius looked out for Lucius, and no one else. Still, if someone as prejudiced as Malfoy could tell a Gryffindor to have ambition, perhaps there was a chance that other Slytherin students might have cause to look favorably on a Gryffindor with initiative.
The sun rose behind him through the trees of the Forbidden Forest as Peter Pettigrew contemplated bravery, ambition, and a certain shy Slytherin girl.
Hermione Granger woke to the pleasant sound of humming, finding to her surprise that it was coming from the next bed over—Juli Warbeck. Nearly everyone in Gryffindor at one point or another had mentioned that while she was related to Celestina Warbeck, Juli herself adamantly denied having any musical talent at all. Hermione had even heard one sixth year student question the girl’s placement in Gryffindor, but she had learned in her first year not to judge a book by its cover. Neville Longbottom might have been every bit as shy as Juli, but he was also every bit as Gryffindor as his female predecessor. Juli could sing, she just didn’t choose to be known for it, it seemed, just as Neville didn’t wear his bravery on his sleeve. Not for the first time since her arrival in the past did Hermione wonder where her fellow DA member’s parents were in this time period, and what their life was like before their son was born.
The thought of Frank and Alice Longbottom and their obvious love for each other reminded her that she had plans with Sirius for Hogsmeade today. Deciding to leave the devious Miss Warbeck to her secret, Hermione made a loud yawning noise to indicate that she was awake before getting out of bed to prepare for the day. It was only after she’d finished getting dressed and pulling her unruly hair back that she realized she hadn’t taken any special measures to dress up or look especially pretty. With Sirius, she simply didn’t feel like she needed to. Hermione thought about this as she walked slowly down the staircase from the girls’ dormitories, a bemused look on her face. While the reactions she’d gotten during fourth year’s Yule Ball had been very gratifying, the feeling that she was somehow on display as someone very different from Hermione Granger had been very uncomfortable.
She reached the bottom of the stairs and caught sight of Sirius, who was sitting as usual in the far corner of the common room. The expression on his face as he looked up and saw her was worth just as much to her as all of the admiring glances she had garnered as Viktor’s date for the Ball. She told herself that there couldn’t be anything in the world like being cared for as who you were every day, school robes or faded blue sweatshirt. As she approached their special corner, she saw that Sirius had picked up on her look of approval and—being Sirius—tried to capitalize on it.
“That’s a brilliant shirt, Mia,” he said glibly.
“It really isn’t,” she shook her head, adding quickly, “—but you get points for trying.”
“Points!” he said, wagging his eyebrows and smirking. “Dare I ask what I can redeem them for?”
“Put your foot in it, there,” Remus let her know, not even looking up from the paper in his lap.
“Good morning to you, too,” Hermione said, a little crossly.
“I live to serve,” the werewolf said, grinning.
“’…me breakfast?’” Sirius looked expectant. Remus, however, simply shook his head and turned a page of his Daily Prophet. “It was worth a try,” Sirius said to Hermione in a loud stage whisper.
“Did you want to get something to eat before we go?” she asked solicitously. “The great hall will probably be serving food in…” Hermione let her voice trail off as she pretended to be studying the magical clock above the portrait hole for a long minute. “Four hours?” she continued, looking to Lupin for approval.
“Sounds about right,” he confirmed.
“You two aren’t clever,” Sirius said, sighing. He raised his hands as if to ward off any possible retorts, lowering one of them to reach for her in a silent plea to help lift him out of his lounging position on the couch. Hermione briefly considered pulling him up halfway only to let go, but decided he’d suffered enough for the time being.
“Off to Hogsmeade, I assume?” Remus asked with a gentle smile.
“’Insert snarky comment about Madame Puddifoot’s Here,’” Sirius said in an insolent voice, making bracket symbols with his fingers.
“Why, Sirius,” Lupin began, attempting to look wounded. “I would never—”
“Save it, Moony,” Sirius said as Hermione giggled helplessly. “Oh, be a dear and tell James I’ve scheduled Gryffindor’s team for the Quidditch Pitch from 9-12?” he added, leading her by the hand toward the exit.
“Isn’t it already half-past—” the werewolf called out after them.
“Just tell him!” Black said, winking impishly before pulling the portrait closed behind him. Hermione tried for a few futile seconds to muster a look of disapproval, but soon gave it up as a lost cause.
“You know,” Hermione tried to adopt a serious tone that was marred by the smile in her voice, “I hardly ever giggle.”
“Is that so?”
She nodded, adding, “I tend to view giggling as a bit vapid.” Sirius slowed his pace such that she had to turn to face him. He tipped his head to the side, his grey eyes catching the light from a nearby window and causing her to repeat the word ‘vapid’ in her head a few times to clear it. “What?!” she finally said defensively, starting to feel a bit uncomfortable under his scrutiny.
“If you were vapid, you’d have started to giggle by now,” he said, firmly clasping her hand in his and walking rapidly toward the shifting staircases.
“You had to check?” she protested.
“Well,” Sirius said in a thoughtful voice, guiding her through the maze of moving staircases, “you were in Slytherin…”
“Just like a Gryffindor to hold that against me,” she teased back. They moved towards the large doors that led to the courtyard, still holding hands. There were few students around; breakfast had been over for over an hour, and those that liked to sleep in on the weekends were still doing so.
Hermione reached up impulsively to pull Sirius’ school scarf over his shaggy hair as they crossed the threshold into the cool autumn air. As she’d hoped, he turned to her and smiled, his entire face suffused with happiness in a way that she’d hardly ever seen during his exile in #12 Grimmauld Place.
For a frightening moment, she wondered if she’d somehow spoken these thoughts aloud, for his face froze in the act of smiling at her and a steely, shuttered look replaced the happiness of only a few seconds before. At the same time, he began to squeeze their joined hands so tightly that she almost asked him what she’d done—but he was looking past her, the set of his jaw telling her that whatever or whoever it was had made him very angry. As he’d done earlier, Sirius started to guide her with his hand in hers, the clear intent being the placement of her body behind his. His movements were rough, and she wanted to object until she finally looked in the direction her boyfriend was staring towards with such intensity.
A boy wearing a heavy black tailored coat and a Slytherin scarf was standing ten feet away from them, his facial features familiar to her, yet different…prouder, perhaps. He seemed very solitary, standing there stiffly in the autumn air with only his scarf as a companion.
“No point in hiding her from me, Sirius,” the young man said evenly.
As soon as she heard the word ‘hiding,’ Hermione wrenched her hand out of Sirius’ and stepped forward from beside him, her anger having flared up at the idea that she had something to conceal from a member of his family.
“If you think I have any intention of hiding from any—”
“What do you want, Regulus?” Sirius interrupted her in a voice so steady and calm that she was shocked speechless. She wanted nothing more than to look back at him, but the anger was still there, telling her that to turn away from the Slytherin-clad boy in front of her would be giving him some sort of advantage.
“I thought perhaps you’d grown taller since May,” the younger boy said almost wistfully, though there was a heavy overtone of irony and anger to his voice.
“You certainly haven’t,” Sirius said with dismissive cruelty. Hermione wondered if the enmity that was clear between the two young men was so strong that he was incapable of seeing what she saw—his brother clearly missed him greatly. To his credit, Regulus displayed absolutely no discernible reaction to his older brother’s insulting tone, and Hermione couldn’t tell if this bothered Sirius or not, not even after her boyfriend spoke again. “You can put in your letter that my height is no longer that woman’s concern,” he said, speaking the words with thinly veiled contempt.
“I’ve already written it,” Regulus said.
“Of course you have.”
“I’m not reporting on you, Sirius,” his brother said, the first hints of anger and frustration appearing in his eyes and the set of his jaw. “That was never why I—”
“Of course not,” Sirius said sarcastically, adopting a sycophantic tone as he continued, “‘Dear Mum—Big Brother is the perfect Gryffindor! You’d be so proud. In other news, I won Slytherin 50 house points this month, and Sirius refuses to talk to me. I miss you—’”
“You’re the one who put your friends above your family!” Regulus said hotly, his face having gone pale with anger during Sirius’ diatribe.
“Strange how that same family didn’t completely turn its back on me until you came to school,” Sirius said in a low voice, coming up to stand next to Hermione. She tried to make eye contact with his brother, tried to get him to watch her as she reached out for Sirius’ hand, but the two boys were focused on each other; a brief squeeze and continued hand to hand contact was her only response from Sirius.
“I love our mother,” Regulus stated with simple dignity, his demeanor starting to regain the aloofness that Hermione had noticed at first.
“You would,” Sirius replied.
“—Whereas you would rather spend your time in the company of a—”
“Do not finish that sentence,” Sirius said softly, dangerously.
She could feel the tension in him; the way his hand trembled in hers spoke not of fear but of unimaginable fury. If she didn’t do something soon, he would release it to defend her against an insult that she no longer found insulting. She turned her back on Regulus, knowing instinctively that it would be braver to walk away than to allow the two brothers to hash out their separate feelings of betrayal on the stones of Hogwarts’ front steps.
“Let’s just go, Sirius,” she said, amazed at the cool, detached quality in her voice. “There are better ways to spend our time.”
“I’m not going to stand here and—”
“Let him call me a Mudblood?” she said, deliberately saying the word without pausing on it or emphasizing its significance in any way. She’d shocked him now, to say nothing of whatever reaction his brother may have had behind her. “It’s just a word,” she continued calmly, squeezing his hand in reassurance that she was serious. “Besides, if it means nothing to me, and it means nothing to you,” Hermione said earnestly, tilting her head in Regulus’ direction, “he’s the only one left to care.”
He didn’t want to listen to her, she could tell. Hermione couldn’t remember seeing him back down very often, if at all—and this situation was far more personal than a mock-insult thrown by James. She wasn’t going to beg him, however. After a long moment during which he never once broke eye contact with her to look at his sibling, Sirius let out a quick breath and the tension seemed to flow away as he pulled her to him and threw a casual arm around her.
“You can tell your mother that our precious blood purity is in serious danger!” he shouted over his shoulder at Regulus as they walked away, Hermione’s sudden shyness at his words causing her to blush—though her steps never once faltered on the walk to Hogsmeade.
A/N: Chapter title comes from the poet Virgil:
‘Look with favor upon a bold beginning.’
Also, I thought my LJ readers might find it particularly amusing that within four hours of writing the 'points' conversation between Hermione and Sirius, I had a nearly identical conversation with my own husband. Life imitating art! He had no idea why I was looking at him so strangely after he asked me what he could use his 'points' on...