A/N: All right. This is today's chapter.
Anti-Litigation Charm: I do not own.
To Hermione's great relief, she shared nearly every single class with Mary. Professor Dumbledore had put her in the same courses she'd taken in her own timeline, which meant that since Mary was in her year, they shared all five of the same core classes. The only class she was on her own in was Arithmancy and Ancient Runes, and she was quite used to not attending it with her friends; Harry and Ron had never taken Ancient Runes, nor had they ever had the slightest interest in Arithmancy; she was as much on her own here as she had been in her own timeline. In a way, that consistency was comforting.
There were so few students in those two classes that, unlike in Hermione's time where it was sorted by year, the third and fourth years were placed together, as were the fifth and sixth years. The seventh years were on their own, in their own exclusive NEWT-level course. There just weren't enough students to warrant separating each class, and Hermione discovered Professors Vector and Babbling essentially taught two separate lessons in the same classroom and the same period. Even with two years combined across the board, there were roughly a total of fifteen students in each class. It was disconcerting how small it was, given Hermione was used to a class of roughly twice this size.
Mary helped her get settled from class to class, helping her find a seat that was not relegated to the very back of the room nor too far to either side, and introducing her to the people she usually sat with. Mary, Hermione soon discovered, was neither a very powerful witch nor a particularly strong-willed one, but she was friendly and personable enough that she had friends in class who were happy to meet Hermione.
At the end of the day, she brought Hermione to Gryffindor Tower, where they found Lily Evans sitting at one of the tables—in fact, one of the very tables Hermione usually sat at—helping one of the third-years with his Transfiguration assignment. She looked up at Mary and Hermione's approach, and gave a friendly smile.
"Mary! I haven't seen you all day." She sat up straight, and the third year she'd been helping thanked her quickly and left; Hermione had the vague suspicion that the boy would be dashing back down the stairs soon enough, with a broomstick over his shoulder. "How can I help you?"
"Hermione, this is Lily," Mary said, by way of introduction. "She's one of the Gryffindor prefects. Lily, Hermione was wondering if she could have copies of your notes from first through fifth year. She doesn't have any, and we're starting our OWL review soon…"
Hermione wasn't listening, nor paying that much attention, even as Lily stood up and bade them to wait a moment while she went to retrieve the notes. Harry's mother had hair that was brighter than Ginny's and just as long, with sparkling green eyes that reminded Hermione so much of Harry. She watched as Lily's hair was swept back as she disappeared from the room, and didn't realize Mary was talking to her until the girl timidly patted her on the shoulder.
"Lily's the one we all go to when the Slytherins start picking on us," she said, her eyes on the floor. Hermione was instantly struck with the suspicion that Mary had had to go to Lily more than once for such a reason. She hated to think of it, but poor Mary was such a weak and easy target. "Don't be afraid to ask her for help." She scuffed her foot on the rug, at this, and then asked, "Are you any good at defensive spells?"
Hermione's mind immediately flew to her sessions at the D.A. "Passably," she lied, knowing she was more than just passably good at defense. Harry was the best among them, but Hermione had absorbed all of his lessons—excluding the last—with her usual lightning-quick talent and studiousness. "Why?"
"We have Potions tomorrow," Mary said by way of explanation. "Would you mind walking down there with me in the morning?"
Hermoine's expression instantly softened. Mary was asking for help, and whether or not she was grateful to the girl for making her feel welcome, she felt almost obliged to help a fellow Gryffindor in need. "Of course."
Mary brightened visibly at this, and Lily returned almost a moment later with several years' worth of notes, neatly put together, and held them out to Hermione, who took them gratefully.
A voice interrupted from the other side of the room. "Oi! Why are you giving her notes when you wouldn't even share Binn's History notes from last week?"
Hermione whipped around in time to see a familiar face lounging on one of the couches in front of the fire, as Lily haughtily replied, "That's because you fell asleep! You don't even bother to take notes!"
Sirius gave her a roguish grin. His hair was black and curly, draped around his shoulders, and his face was bright and lively, something Hermione had never seen in him during her time at Grimmauld Place. Where she remembered him as gaunt and pale, he now looked young and healthy, nearing his prime, and if she looked closely, it seemed he was already starting to grow the faintest stubble of a beard.
"Come on, Lily," he weedled, sitting up. "Just this once. I normally manage to stay awake long enough to write down what he's saying."
"You always say that," Lily said, turning away from him with a sigh. "If you want notes so badly, go ask Remus. They're just as good as mine."
"You have nice script."
"You deserve it if you can't read Remus's chicken scratch," Lily countered, flouncing back off to her table, where she straightened out her papers and began putting them back in her bag. "Come on, Mary. Are you coming, Hermione?"
Hermione was nearly astonished by Lily's almost dictatorial tone, but she acquiesced immediately. Dashing up the stairs to put her newly-acquired notes away, she grabbed her bag and followed Lily and Mary out the portrait hole, throwing Sirius one last look over her shoulder as he did.
The boy was scowling, but it quickly slid from his face as he leaned down to pick up his Defense Against the Dark Arts text book, picked up some parchment that had slid off his lap, and propping it on his book, resumed writing.
Hermione sat on the couch in the common room that night, scribbling away at her essay due tomorrow while several other students, including Mary, went up to bed. Rain pattered against the window in a steady beat, and it was pitch black outside. The common room was surprisingly quiet, until Sirius stormed in, soaking wet and tracking mud. Hermione nearly shrieked at this, and scrambled to her feet in time to see two more familiar faces follow suit, their shoes thick with mud and leaving a mess that would likely cause Argus Filch to have an apoplectic fit.
Remembering the crabby old caretaker's aiding and abetting of Umbridge, she actually didn't pity him one bit if he had to clean this up. But his jobs were restricted largely to the halls; he wouldn't be called in for dormitories. It would be the elves who would have to clean those messes.
The boy who could have passed for a slightly-older Harry, minus the scar and hazel eyes, was grinning with amusement at the horrified look on her face. The fair-haired boy standing behind him, however, looked somewhat abashed, and pulled out his wand to try and undo some of the mess.
"You're tracking mud into the common room!" Hermione almost howled. "For Merlin's sake, can't you do a simple Cleaning Charm?"
Sirius shrugged, but pulled out his wand to scourgify his robes clean. "More work for Filch." He eyed Hermione's hair warily, watching as it began to frizz slightly in her agitation. "Please don't have a heart attack. McGonagall will put us in detention for the rest our lives if you die on us first-day in."
James Potter was staring at Hermione curiously, and it was Remus who had to scourgify his mud-soaked Quidditch robes for him, since it seemed he wasn't going to do so himself. "You're the new girl, aren't you?"
Hermione paled. For a moment, she had a sense of extremely disconcerting vertigo, and she closed her eyes for a moment to will it away before she felt steady enough to speak. James Potter was not Harry. She could not pull him into a hug and cry her eyes out with relief at a familiar face. Instead, she took a calming breath, and answered as evenly as she could, "Yes, I am. And for future reference, if you could please keep your mud-tracking activities restricted to the halls, I would be much obliged not to have you sent to detention for the rest of your life."
"Just got back from Quidditch practice," James said by way of explanation, ruffling the back of his head. "We haven't had a chance to clean up."
"Are you a wizard or not?" Hermione snapped. It was the only way she felt she could cope; either she was going to break down crying or she was going to snap at them to get their act together. It was too confusing for her. Right now, she just wanted to storm off and go to sleep and try to prepare herself for the day ahead. "Lily told me at dinner that you're one of the best in your class at Charms." Had bragged almost admiringly, actually. "Surely you could manage that much?"
James's attention immediately snapped to her. "Lily said that?" he asked, looking rather pleased with himself.
Oh gods. "Yes," Hermione answered, sounding uncertain, but she tried to roll with it. "And—you know—I think the rest of us would appreciate a clean common room. Including her."
James sighed and shoved his hands into his pockets, though Hermione could tell that inside, he was grinning from ear to ear. "Alright. Can we go now?"
"Yes, go," Hermione snapped, waving them away and sliding back down to the floor, pulling her Transfiguration essay closer and re-inking her quill. "Have a good night."
They tramped past her and up the stairs, and the minute they were gone, Hermione shoved her essay aside, curled up into a ball, and wrapped her arms around her knees, burying her face in them. Gods, she just wanted to go home. She would do anything to be home now. Back home and in the right timeline. She didn't belong here.
She was surprised when a hand gently patted her shoulder, and her head shot up. Remus was kneeling beside her, looking uncertain, but concerned.
Hermione didn't want to deal with this. "Go away, please," she croaked, turning her head away. Tears were threatening to pour again, but by now, she knew they needed to stop. Crying wouldn't help, and never helped, but she couldn't stop the sense of helplessness threatening to engulf her in salty tears.
"Are you all right?" Remus asked gently.
"I'm fine," Hermione muttered, still refusing to look at him. A dam had finally broken, and the tears were starting to trickle down her cheeks. "Go away."
"No." Hermione turned to look at him, surprised. He amended, "I'm a prefect. It's my job to look after you, and you're obviously not fine." He scooted until he was sitting next to her, and crossed his arms across his chest. "I'm here to listen, if you need me."
Hermione swallowed, feeling both grateful and annoyed beyond all comprehension. She couldn't tell him the truth, but she settled on a vague version of it. "I miss home," she whimpered quietly.
She felt Remus shift, uncrossing his arms, and placed a hand on her shoulder, giving it a firm squeeze. Hermione continued, "I miss my friends, and I miss my family. I even miss my teachers. And now I'm here, and it's just…" she shook, her body wracking with barely-contained sobs as she struggled not to let it all out. "I'm alone. I am completely alone."
"No, you're not," Remus responded gently, but his voice was firm. "You have us. Everyone in Gryffindor will be your friend if you let them. And you can always owl your friends back at home."
"I can't," Hermione said with a sobbed hiccup. She buried her face in her arms, and brokenly repeated, "I can't."
Remus seemed to absorb this with a transforming look of horror and then pity and sympathy. "You-Know-Who?" he asked, not daring to be more specific.
Hermione nodded. Because in a way, indirectly, Voldemort had taken everything away from her. His influence at the Ministry had translated to influence at Hogwarts, which had led to this—
Remus wrapped his arms around her shoulders and gave her a friendly squeeze. "We'll be your family, Hermione. Some of us have lost friends and family because of him—you're not alone."
Hermione looked blearily at him, remembering that it was because of Voldemort that he was a werewolf. Of course he would understand loss—for him, he had lost any chance of a normal, unafflicted life. She buried her tear-stained face in his chest and let it all out, crying and shaking uncontrollably. She couldn't go back. She couldn't go home. She was stuck here, probably for the rest of her life, and every time she tried to stop, a new wave of pain crushed her will and wracked another broken moan from her.
Remus—gentle, understanding Remus—simply held her. He held this strange new girl he knew next to nothing about and comforted her as she cried over the loss of her life as she knew it. And when she finally pulled away with a sniffle, trying to wipe her face with her sleeve, he summoned a handkerchief for her and pressed it into her hands.
"Here—blow." Hermione did, and then wiped her face with the part that was not covered with copious amounts of snot. Her cheeks were still stained, but she had finally stopped crying. Remus took a moment to scourgify the handkerchief, and pocketed it. "I know things won't be the same for you ever again—they never are—but you're surrounded by great people, Hermione. We're happy to have you here." He gave her a small smile. "You're one of us."
She gave a small nod, and hiccuped, unable to speak.
"It will be okay," Remus said, stressing the words. "We'll be here for you. I promise."
Hermione nodded again, and Remus patted her arm. "Do you want to finish up here or go to bed? I'm sure McGonagall will forgive you for turning the essay a bit late—it's due tomorrow, and if I remember right, she assigned it to the fifth years last week. You've only been here a day."
Hermione shook her head. "No, I—I need to get it done," she croaked, reaching for the paper.
"Would you like me to stay here with you?"
Hermione hesitated, and then nodded. "I'd—I'd like that. I'd be grateful for the company."
Remus patted her arm once more, and then re-inked her quill for her and handed it over. Hermione took a deep, shuddering breath, trying to calm herself down enough to write comprehendingly, and then resumed writing.
Remus sat there the entire time, silently watching her fingers become ink-stained as they scribbled across the parchment. And when she finally finished an hour later, he helped her pull her stuff together and sent her off to bed.
Two important things occurred as a result of Hermione's breakdown. For one, Remus was now her friend. Secondly, she no longer felt the urge to break down in tears. She had kept it all bottled up for several days, and having finally let it out, it no longer felt as though it was building up inside, waiting to pour out. She still felt a heavy kind of pain in her chest, where she felt heartsore and homesick, but she no longer felt snappy and explosive.
Remus and Mary were both waiting for her in the common room the next morning, and the three of them walked down to the Great Hall together. James and Sirius had clearly gone ahead, probably with Peter (Hermione's stomach churned at this), leaving Remus to take care of the new fifth-year girl. Hermione was grateful for their companionship, and they made small talk as they walked down for breakfast.
They found seats at the Gryffindor table, where Hermione ended up sitting between Mary and Remus, grouped with the Marauders. James was sitting next to Lily, who seemed to be studiously ignoring him, with Sirius on his left. On the other side of Remus was Peter, who was sloppily trying to eat breakfast and finish last night's Charms homework, which he had apparently neglected to do. Hermione felt bile rise up in her throat when she saw the squat, watery-eyed boy sitting at the table, and tried not to look at him. He wasn't the same person he was now, just as James, Sirius, and Remus had all changed. Right now, he was just a pale, weak boy who hung out with the other three Marauders for protection and friendship.
Mary was shy at the table, and kept to small talk and timid looks. She spoke quietly as a general rule, and in the bustling noise of the Great Hall, nearly everything she said was drowned out. In between answering Peter's questions about locking charms and refusing to give Sirius his history notes, he and Hermione talked. It was clear to Hermione that he was pleasantly surprised at Hermione's knowledged and interest in academics, and they spent a good portion of the breakfast hour discussing the influence of Alchemy in Transfiguration and Potions. Sirius spent the morning glaring at Remus, which the prefect tried to ignore, but Hermione had an inkling that by the end of the day, Sirius would have his way.
They bade goodbye at the breakfast table, and Hermione and Mary set off down for potions.
"Splendid!" Slughorn beamed, as he looked down at Hermione's finished potion. "Absolutely splendid! You have quite some talent at Potions, Miss Granger, some talent indeed! Ten points to Gryffindor." He peered up at her, a sudden spark of interest lighting his eyes. "Granger… are you possible related to Hector Dagworth-Granger?"
Hermione opened her mouth to say no, but then paused. There were Slytherins in this room. Slytherins who didn't know her parentage, but who would make an instant target out of her if she revealed she was Muggle-born. She took a split second to consider it; if she denied any relation, they could still assume she was Muggle-born. It was best to play this opportunity to her advantage to afford her a possible spark of protection.
"It's possible," she said, trying to look modest.
She didn't really pay attention to Slughorn's response; out of the corner of her eye, she saw some of the Slytherins looking at her with renewed interest. One of them sniggered, and turned to his table partner to whisper something behind his hand. Hermione suddenly wondered if she'd made a calculated mistake; she might have just saved herself from automatically being presumed a Muggle-born, but claiming possible relation to a famous wizard, however distant, might have also just made herself an even larger probable target.
Ducking her head, she gathered her stuff and left as quickly as possible, waiting just a moment longer at the door for Mary to catch up, and the two headed down the dungeon corridor for their next class.
"Are you really related to Dagworth-Granger?" Mary asked meekly as they walked quickly through the hall. They reached the stairs leading up, and walked out into the cheery brightness of the Entrance Hall.
Hermione was about to reply when Mary let out a sudden squeal of surprise and tripped, dropping her bag and spilling its contents across the floor. Hermione whipped around in time to see three older boys advancing on them, wands out and wearing near-identical looks of glee.
Hermione's wand was out in an instant. "Protego!" she shouted, slashing her wand in their direction. The next spells thrown promptly bounced off, and one of the slower boys stumbled backwards and fell as his face erupted into a mass of boils. He let out a howl of rage that Hermione thought was completely uncalled for, and she sent a Petrificus Totalus his way before pulling back into a defensive stance, putting herself between Mary and the other two boys.
They weren't done. The taller—and meaner looking of the two—sent a nasty hex in Hermione's direction, which she promptly deflected and returned the favor with a Stunner. Harry had more than just taught them the spells; he had taught them how to really use them, how to attack and defend in one-on-one duels, and when she used those skills in a three-on-one battle, they still served her well. The third boy tried to hit her with a Slicing Hex and a Trip-Jinx in quick succession, dodging her second Stunner. She was about to throw another spell at him when her hair suddenly ruffled as four different spells flew past her head, one missing by nearly an inch, and two of them hit the boy squarely in the chest. One knocked him out; the other gave him an eight-point rack of antlers.
Hermione whipped around again, in time to see all four of the Marauders standing together, wands out, wearing identical expressions of fury. She saw Peter duck forward to help Mary to her feet, and Remus approached first, clasping a hand on her shoulder.
"Are you alright, Hermione? Did they get you?"
"No, I got them first," Hermione said, glancing back at the three unconscious Slytherins. She was about to elaborate when she was, again, interrupted.
"Hold it right there!" Two more Slytherins had appeared, wands out, and Hermione watched as James and Sirius's hackles raised at their approach. The one on the right had light brown hair and was the shorter of the two. The one on the right was a tall, gangly figure with greasy hair and a hooked nose, whose face Hermione could not quite instantly place—
"Your Slytherins attacked our friends," Sirius growled. Hermione wanted to ask him when she had suddenly been promoted from 'new acquaintance to annoy' to 'friend', but kept silent. "They were coming back from class."
"And what would you have brought your pack of Gryffindor dogs down for, if it wasn't to start trouble?" The brown-haired boy's eyes narrowed calculatingly. "Seems a bit much for a mid-morning stroll, don't you think?"
"We have Potions next, you slimy git," James said.
"So you do. I seem to have forgotten that little detail," the Slytherin responded, mouth curving upwards into a supercilious smile. "After all, we share the same class. And here I was hoping you'd finally been kicked out for Gryffindor incompetence." He gave a long-suffering sigh. "And it was such a nice dream, too."
"Just get out of here before we decide to hex you too, Avery," Sirius snarled. "And take Snivellus with you." He gestured at the greasy black-haired Slytherin, whose black eyes widened with badly-concealed rage. "He looks a little lost."
At that moment, Mary tugged on Hermione's arm. "Let's get out of here," she begged plaintively.
Hermione couldn't see how that was going to happen. If she turned her back, she would be an instant target. They were at a standstill, all seven of them with their wands out. Any moment now, they were either going to put their wands away and stomp off, or start hexing each other blindly—the latter of which seemed more likely—
"That's enough!" Hermione turned around in time to see Professor McGonagall striding down the corridor, looking quite furious. Hermione didn't know why she was here, but she was grateful—until McGonagall's next words hit her. "Fighting in the corridors! Ten points apiece and detention, all of you!"
"That's not fair!" James said angrily, turning around to face his Head of House. "They attacked Mary and Hermione first!"
The Slytherin sporting the rather impressive rack of antlers stirred feebly.
McGonagall peered down at Mary, who looked as though she were about to faint. "Miss MacDonald, I can certainly believe. Run along," she snapped, though not unkindly, and Mary took one last look at Hermione, gathered her bags, and fled down the corridor. Minerva turned her attention back to them. "Avery, take those three up with you to the Hospital Wing, and report to Mr. Filch for detention tonight at eight. You and Pettigrew will be helping him clean up the mud someone—" she sniffed, "tracked in last night."
Without a word, and a meaningful glance at the pale, hook-nosed boy—who now looked as though he wished he were anywhere else but here—Avery helped his antlered classmate to his feet and a moment later, the two of them were each dragging an unconscious body between them down the corridor. McGonagall then turned her very potent fury on the yet unpunished.
"I didn't do anything!" The black-haired boy suddenly snapped, taking a step backwards. "I didn't do a single thing—"
"Be that as it may, Mr. Snape, I have no doubt that had I waited to arrive just a bit longer, you would have done quite a bit worse than simply being here," McGongall said in a tone that could have passed for dryness, but was what Hermione recognized as irate fury. Behind the professor's back, Hermione saw James and Sirius share identical smirks at this. "The same goes for you, Miss Granger." Hermione didn't even try to protest. "Both of you will serve detention with Professor Slughorn on Friday, eight o'clock. "
She saw her future Potions professor give her a murderous glare, as though his detention were somehow her fault, and resisted the urge to swallow hard. Right now, she felt as though she'd just fallen down the rabbit hole; her best friends had been replaced with youthened versions of the people Hermione considered mentors and trusted adults. And to top it off, she was now back in school with one of her least favorite professors. At the very least, someone who she was quite certain was not about to take her sudden arrival with a welcome and a smile.
What she wanted to do was curl up right now, take several deep breaths, and find a way to sleep the time lag off. She just needed more time to come to terms with the realities of this timeline. As it was, it seemed the only way she was going to get through everything would be to have it come at her all at once.
Steeling herself, she looked Severus Snape in the eye and returned his glare with equal venom.
"Run along now," McGonagall said sharply, startling Hermione out of her thoughts. She grabbed her bag, which had fallen to the ground, and made to leave. "And don't let me catch you fighting in the corridors again!"
She wondered how it was possible for her to have gotten a detention on her second day of school when it had taken nearly an entire year in her timeline.
She left the dungeons, huffing angrily at the fact that in this instance, it had been entirely the Slytherins' faults. She made it to Ancient Runes five minutes late, and slumped into her seat, still fuming about what rotten, misbegotten gits they were.
She was glad that she'd heeded Professor McGonagall's warning. And she was even more grateful that the Marauders had shown up when they had, though she wished they had not been punished for their intervention. She recalled Sirius admitting that they had been a bunch of arrogant berks back in school, but in this case, their readiness to fight was much appreciated. She would have to thank them later.
"I don't believe this!" James fumed, taking a seat on the couch as Hermione got to work on her Charms essay. "We have Quidditch practice on Saturday, and instead of being out there on the pitch with the team, I'm going to be stuck inside! Writing lines!"
"Bad luck, Prongs," Sirius said moodily, tossing spare bits of parchment into the common room fire, where they disintegrated into flakes of ash on the rug. "I'll be writing lines in Flitwick's classroom." He stopped throwing parchment into the fire long enough to mime writing, pulling his face in a thuggishly confused, brow-scrunched expression. "I… will… not… hex… Slytherins…in…the…corridors…"
"I will not give them a rack of antlers."
"I will not cover their face in tentacles, no matter how much I think it improves their looks."
"I will not hang Sniv—"
"Will you two please quit it?" Remus snapped, lowering his book. "Some of us are trying to work. And I do not appreciate being pulled into detention because of you," he added, glowering at Sirius.
"Look mate, for once, it wasn't my fault!"
"If you would learn to disengage from a fight, we might not have been there long enough for McGonagall to have to come down on us," Remus said, returning to his book.
"If you want to call being hexed in the back by Snivellus 'disengaging', by all means, Moony—"
Hermione had had enough. She looked up from her essay and threw both boys each a dirty look. "As much as I appreciate your intervention earlier today, I would appreciate it even more if you would be quiet long enough for others to get their homework done!"
Sirius elbowed James. "Let's go, Prongs. I can see we're not wanted here."
"Where's Peter?" James wanted to know.
"Still in detention with Avery. C'mon." Sirius stood up and headed for the portrait hole. "We'll be practicing on the Quidditch Pitch if you need us," he called over his shoulder, before he and James shut the portrait behind them. Hermione let out a sigh of relief, and bent back over her essay.
The room was quiet for several minutes, save for the crackling fire, before Remus broke the relative silence. "You know, they're really not so bad, once you get to know them."
"I know," Hermione said, scribbling the last line of her current paragraph. She paused to look up at him, and gave him a small smile. "I can tell."
Before she bent her head again, she happened to glance out the window, where the moon shone brightly across the cloudless sky.
It was waning.